PURSUING THE WHITE BOAR Approaches to Teaching Richard III

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Richard Oberdorfer, Norfolk Academy

©1995 Richard Oberdorfer. Permission to reproduce in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 is hereby given, provided that no alterations are made to the text and that this copyright notice appears as part of the reproduction.

Everybody Loves a Mystery

Virtually every instructor who decides to devote more than passing notice to Richard III starts from the same position: the mystery surrounding not only his actions but also his personality. Many respectable, seemingly authoritative sources portray him as villainous to the core: an amoral Machiavellian whose political ambitions led him to murder friends and relatives without compunction. Yet there is an impressive array of primary and secondary sources that praise Richard’s character and accomplishments, deny the allegations of his guilt, and portray him as a victim rather than a schemer. The inconclusive nature of this continuing dispute seems to be a ready-made “hook” for inspiring curiosity and attracting students to the study of History and the way History is “made”.

Perhaps because they know they aren’t merely memorizing a predetermined set of unchallenged “facts”, students enjoy taking on the role of “detective” and determining the outcome themselves. Ruth Anne Vineyard’s meticulously constructed seminar-style unit plan, Oh, Tey, Can You See?, is built upon this premise. (She even suggests the possible inclusion of a genuine police detective as a guest speaker during the project.) [1] Kay Janis and Nina Fleming affirm the “obvious interest and enthusiasm” which this kind of project instills in students and suggest that this is noticeable even outside the immediate classroom. [2]

The circumstances surrounding Richard’s life make students certainly want to reach their own conclusions as to his guilt or innocence. But this would be of little practical value if themeans were lacking to satisfy this curiosity. For example, the fate of the last Russian tsar and his family inspired controversy for decades because of the lack of available evidence, until the recent discovery of the burial site finally laid much of those speculations to rest.

Richard III does not represent a similar problem. Professor Charles T. Wood of Dartmouth College asserts that the controversy is uniquely suited to effective classroom use. For one thing, no language barrier inhibits the examination of the surviving primary sources. Where there are no English originals, translations do exist. Furthermore, asserts Prof. Wood, the volume of the available material “is small enough that students can be expected to read all of it. In effect, then, they can have the same level of knowledge as ‘the experts.'” [3]

Not all the evidence is literary. The most popular investigation of Richard, Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time, starts with an invalid police inspector’s examining an unidentified portrait of the English king and concluding that no one who looks like that could be a murderer. [4] While portrait examination may not be as infallible for everyone as it is for Tey’s hero, it is nevertheless the most popular first step used by teachers.

The problem with considering a painting to be evidence on the order of a photograph is that both of the two most popular portraits of Richard date from well after his death. If drawing conclusions based on their assumed accuracy can be risky, it does not preclude their usefulness as part of the detective’s puzzle. These paintings seem clearly influenced by the Italian Renaissance practice of representing an individual’s appearance rather than merely presenting a symbolic image. The complex personality represented in both cases tends to stimulate curiosity, just as it does for Tey’s Inspector Grant. It thus becomes an effective initial step in launching an investigation. Ruth Anne Vineyard and Joe Ann Ricca, for example, advocate asking students to examine the National Portrait Gallery pictures of Richard and Henry Tudor and draw conclusions about the character of the two men. [5]

Once interest is aroused, a teacher becomes less of a traditional source of “facts” and more of a guide and facilitator. If the true goal of education is to motivate students to want to learn and to maintain that habit throughout their lives, introducing them to the controversy surrounding Richard III is a step in the right direction.

Revealing Fifteenth Century Lifestyles and Values

One of the biggest problems facing anyone teaching history is how to deal with ethnocentrism and what may best be called “chronocentrism”. The only values with which students are familiar are those of the culture in which they live, and it is natural they will assume that those values apply when they are dealing with different societies and different times. This affects the way they perceive the motives of individuals as well as their assessment of causes and effects.

For example, it is often difficult for Western students to understand the conduct of African or East Asian cultures which do not reflect the values of Judeo-Christian morality or Greek philosophy. Likewise, people raised in our skeptical age automatically assume that any ruler who openly espouses religion is thinking “politically” and presenting a front to cover his or her insincerity. Yet this may not have been the case in medieval times, when the Church was so integrally a part of everyone’s daily life.

If a history course consists solely of names and events for memorization and repetition, there will be no recognition of this variety. The natural assumption will be that things are the same everywhere — and they always have been.

The controversy surrounding Richard III is attractive because of its inherently dramatic nature, but that is not all. It allows the teacher to describe a society whose values and institutions are in some ways very different from our own. Joe Ann Ricca suggests introducing the subject matter to younger students by emphasizing the familiar things they would not find in the fifteenth century. By stressing at the outset the differences between the periods, she finds it easier to address unfamiliar issues like the pre-nuptial agreement involving Edward IV. [6]

Ricca also believes that “tangible materials” are important to give a class a feel for the unique aspects of the period. Showing them weapons, such as contemporary swords and battle axes, as well as examples of the popular costumes of the day should excite their interest as well as underscore the lifestyles of the age. [7]

Mary Schaller employs her talents as a drama instructor and improvisational actress to immerse her audience in the life of the Yorkist court. She has scripted a monologue delivered by “Tarleton, the jester”, and in it she makes allusions to nobles as well as commoners. Her portrayal of Richard himself, for example, subtly sheds light on her conclusions about his personality. She underscores his serious nature and his concern over his wife’s ill health: “Let us say that it pleases him mightily that I do please his lady wife. . . she has not been well and anything that brings her a bit of color to her cheek and light in her eyes pleases my lord.” Of the attitudes of common folk, her jester states, “. . . if I return to my village, it must be under cover of night and I must doff my motley coat before I am a mile from home. . . We jongleurs do not enjoy good reputations among simple Christian folk.” [8]

Recognizing that dramatic presentations can be more involving than lecturers, Schaller has also written and published a play about Richard: The Final Trial of Richard III. She describes her purpose as “to educate the audience about Richard’s life and times through a courtroom drama.” Her format demands more than passive viewing, for she requires the audience to become contemporary participants and serve as the jury. The play has two alternate endings, depending on the conclusions of the viewers. [9]

Any classroom presentation involving the War of the Roses must touch to some extent on the battles themselves, and this opens other opportunities. There are political aspects of fifteenth-century England that are very different from ours today and which can be shown clearly through that struggle as well as the intrigues surrounding Richard. It may surprise students when they discover that a civil war such as the one between the Yorks and the Lancasters did not directly involve the ordinary citizen. He simply waited for the outcome of one bloody skirmish or another to determine who would claim the crown and lead the government.

The makeup of the forces who fought the wars is also unusual by modern standards and requires some explanation beyond a simple narrative of events. National loyalties and armies as we know them did not exist, so troops were enlisted for other than patriotic reasons. As the ethics of pragmatism emerged, noble families chose which side to support based on what privileges they might accrue. Because that support involved supplying — and often leading — armed forces, the outcomes were actual matters of life and death. This explains why the banners displayed by combatants often revealed personal emblems, like Richard’s white boar, Warwick’s bear, or Henry Tudor’s dragon. It also explains why they often fought as separate units with separate agendas.

It is clearly the teacher’s responsibility to expand student horizons. The multi-cultural nature of our society means that we do not all share a common historical or ethical heritage, so education must lead us to understand and tolerate diversity. Studying fifteenth-century England may not be the only solution to this dilemma, but it is something that can contribute to that solution.

The Impact of Richard’s Age on Events and Values Today

If one method of engaging student interest in the late fifteenth century is to demonstrate the unfamiliar aspects of life at that time, another way relies on the opposite approach. Since that century represents the transition between the medieval and modern worlds, it is possible to discover attitudes that would not be out of place today.

Such revelations can convince students that England at that time was not a distant fairy-tale realm, but a region populated by recognizeable human beings with understandable motivations.

Mary Schaller uses her dramatic presentation focusing on Tarleton, the jester, to do more than reflect the uniqueness of the York/Tudor age. Just as she seeks to demonstrate the human motives and actions of court personalities, she attempts also to reveal subtler influences. Her introductory comments, for example, show how modern terms like “slapstick” and “Plain Jane” are derived from performance practices associated with jesters. [10]

Richard P. McArthur addresses Richard III’s one Parliament, that of 1484, and the statutes that emerged from it. He stresses the “laws which we consider the more important in shaping the world as we know it and want it to be.” In that regard he cites the variety of the subjects covered: bail reform, commercial suits and juries, land ownership, and benevolence reform. McArthur also emphasizes that the legislation did not restrict “the importing and selling of books”, certainly evidence of the spread of Renaissance values to England. [11] Breakthroughs in printing, encouraged by the King, further demonstrate the gradual rise in the humanism associated with modern times.

Modern political philosophies, with their emphasis on immediate material gain, provide additional evidence of the persistent infiltration of Renaissance secularism. Breaking oaths and shifting individual loyalties would certainly have been viewed at that time as treachery by the abandoned parties, but such actions would not have been rare or shocking. What happened to Richard at Bosworth Field clearly illustrates these new values.

Each area of modern life in which such antecedents exist is a valid subject for classroom emphasis as well as student research. These efforts help us to identify recognizeable threads and balance the intriguing, unfamiliar elements of Richard III’s world. By using both approaches in the classroom, a teacher offers a more rounded portrait of fifteenth-century England and employs a variety of methods to excite student curiosity.

Dealing with the Historical Images of Shakespeare’s Richard III

As already noted, dramatic presentations concerning historical events can have far greater impact than direct narratives, whether they be in the form of lectures or text. No matter how much a playwright embellishes historical research with fictional elements, an audience will find their opinions permanently molded by the images set before them.

Generations of Americans learned about the character of Abraham Lincoln, Davy Crockett, and Wyatt Earp not from classroom texts but from movies and television — because they saw vivid, living figures with understandable motivations.

When the dramatic presentation at the same time has genuine literary merit, it will earn repeated performances and leave a lasting and widespread impression. In fact, it may become almost impossible to separate the character in the play from the genuine historical personality. William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard III is an outstanding example of this effect. Laura Blanchard states that “most of us remember Richard for his hump, his anguished cry for a horse, and his propensity for bumping off his friends and family.” [12] Could these popular assumptions be accurate?

That question offers the teacher a useful way to separate what is dramatically effective from what is historically probable. Students can research aspects of the play, such as Richard’s alleged deformities and the role they played in warping his perceptions. This is what Josephine Tey’s protagonist does in The Daughter of Time, and he concludes that Shakespeare’s version cannot be trusted. [13]

Once students are convinced that dramatic “biographies” can be moving but inaccurate, there are other plays that can be surveyed and assessed. Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasonsportrays the last years of Sir Thomas More, someone whose personality and career directly affect the perceptions of Richard III. Will student research underscore his reputation for open-minded honesty? Jean Anouilh’s Becket and James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter provide two contrasting versions of England’s King Henry II and can therefore be similarly analyzed and compared.

Familiarity with something as potent as Shakespeare’s portrait of Richard III usually precludes approaching the subject with an open mind. As Laura Blanchard puts it, “Shakespeare’s Richard was the nastiest man in an exceptionally brutal century.” [14] While few serious historians claim that Shakespeare’s morality play dealing with villainy and retribution is of much use in portraying the man’s real personality, it carries the weight of traditionally accepted truth. Any revision of Richard’s reputation must start by directly addressing that familiar picture.

In his British literature course, Dr. Larry C. Thompson focuses on this disparity. He finds it effective to require his students to view Sir Laurence Olivier’s performance of the play, so that it will instill in them “the typical notion” of the King’s character, just as it did with him the first time he saw it. “I set my students up to be misled the same way,” he explains, knowing that he will counter the effect by having them read Tey’s novel. [15]

Dr. Charles T. Wood seeks to remind students that there is an innate flexibility within the dramatic art form that makes it impossible to generalize about a playwright’s single intent. Interpretations vary from reading to reading and performance to performance. Dr. Wood suggests that Shakespeare employed Sir Thomas More’s account as his principal source but does not duplicate every aspect of that account. Furthermore, “Shakespeare on stage turns out to be very different from Shakespeare just read as text; and film versions such as Olivier’s similarly transform the stage versions.” Through this kind of analysis, the play “becomes a vehicle for helping students more fully to understand what the relative strengths and weaknesses of a variety of art forms are — and why.” [16]

Biases and presuppositions provide a virtual brick wall which teachers struggle to remove. What Shakespeare devised as effective theater has created an image stronger than anything that could have come from a purely scholarly source.

Establishing an open mind on this subject matter can have a healthy effect on a student’s general perspective and contribute positively to the entire process of education. Joe Ann Ricca provides the best summary: “While I want the students to walk away believing Richard is not as Shakespeare has depicted, more importantly, I want them to leave thinking so they are hungry enough mentally to come back with more questions.” [17]

Political Propaganda and Public Morality

A popular debate surrounding education today concerns whether morality should be taught in the classroom. Citing the acknowledged disparity of cultural backgrounds from which students come, it is sometimes argued that the teacher should remain ethically neutral, fulfilling the role of source and guide with regard to basic data but never venturing beyond that. Since functioning within our society, however,involves more than being armed with facts, such a position is inadequate for a genuine education.

One of the basic beliefs of Western Civilization is the value of the individual; it is fundamental to the entire education curriculum and should not be intentionally ignored or quietly assumed in instruction. A teacher must expose students to ethical dilemmas and lead them to realize the implications of available choices so that they have a compass by which to guide the application of their factual knowledge.

The events surrounding the career of Richard III provide ample opportunity for this kind of moral education. Coming as they do at the end of an age dominated by spiritual authority and at the beginning of one in which pragmatism rules, they allow history classes to focus on ethical issues with very little break in the chronological flow of the narrative.

The name most associated with the value system coming gradually to dominate Europe is Niccolo Machiavelli, although his landmark book, The Prince, did not appear until more than two decades after Richard’s death. Machiavelli claimed that he did not invent the new political morality but rather described what was at that time already in effective use. The basic assumption was that the securing and maintaining of power justified any action taken toward that end.

Dr. Terrance L. Lewis feels that a useful area on which to focus would be the way political authorities manipulate history “to validate their claims to power.” He suggests beginning with a broad factual outline of the events surrounding the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, as well as an overview of the variety of different explanations for their disappearance. He would then concentrate on the way Tudor writers manipulated accounts, so that “shading and omission created the powerful myth that Shakespeare presented, leaving the Tudor propaganda triumphant and unchallengeable” for a very long time. [18]

Kay Janis and Nina Fleming support this approach, requiring their students “to trace the allegations of Richard’s physical deformities, heinous acts, and enjoyment of his villainy from More to Holinshed to Shakespeare and document all references.” [19]

Dr. Lewis further suggests that similar patterns of image shaping can be found in modern history, such as “the Nazi use of Germanic myth and history”. [20] Given the sophisticated techniques for controlling the mass media in the twentieth century, one could argue that there are equally relevant examples among totalitarian Communist or Fascist regimes — or even among the activities of “spin doctors” in democratic politics.

Ann Rabinowitz addresses the events surrounding Richard from less of an institutional angle and more from the standpoint of individual ethical issues. Whereas Dr. Lewis admits to a “pro-Ricardian bias”, Ms. Rabinowitz says that she makes “no attempt to solve the historical puzzle”concerning Richard’s guilt or innocence. [21] Although she acknowledges the variety of opinions, she is perfectly willing to assume that the King committed the crimes so that she may use them as starting points from which to address issues like: “How do we assess someone who is good to us yet cruel to others? . . . What imperatives; i.e. the precariousness of the regency, danger to his own family, or the instability of minority rule, might have driven Richard to an act repugnant to his personal standards?” [22]

The essential question, then, becomes not the strictly historical one of “who-did-what-to-whom?,” but rather a comparison of private and public morality and the standards by which the populace judges officials. As Ms. Rabinowitz states, “The point is neither to condemn nor to acquit Richard, but rather to explore the complexities and ambiguities of adult behavior that youngsters so often find puzzling and painful.” [23]

A narrative description of events is clearly not enough to satisfy today’s classroom needs. Recognition of the practices of Machiavellianism ought not be construed by students to mean the same as acceptance and approval. They must recognize that there are ethical issues at the heart of the Ricardian controversy that go far beyond merely determining a murderer’s guilt. On the one hand, there is the cold, political manipulation of facts to create an impression of unspeakable villainy; this is an issue of continuing relevance. On the other, there is the clash of a variety of conflicting morally attractive goals without an obviously preferable choice; this is also a common dilemma today.

If each individual is defined by the values used to direct his or her life, these issues belong in the classroom.

Turning Students into Effective Research Historians

In recent years what constitutes effective history teaching has undergone close scrutiny. It was assumed for a long time — and still is by many people — that a proper classroom consists of a well-informed instructor repeating for student memorization all the knowledge he or she has accumulated over the years. At the end of the course, carefully programmed clones emerge fully “educated”.

Such a definition seems woefully inadequate, if one views education in terms of its lasting impact. Although a teacher may take pride in successfully traversing a chronological syllabus, the specific factual content of the course may have all the sticking power of a list of random numbers committed to memory. Unless a student genuinely assimilates the information — that is, makes it part of the general store of knowledge employed in future decision- making — there will be little retention.

The circumstances surrounding the career of Richard III provide an opportunity for a teacher to reverse this detachment. The controversy surrounding the King’s motives and actions not only excites curiosity; it also provides enough clues to lead a student-investigator to draw his or her own conclusions. The teacher’s role becomes that of facilitator: helping the student analyze issues, ask questions, draw hypotheses, locate sources, and check out specifics.

Ruth Anne Vineyard directly addresses this strategy in her Oh, Tey, Can You See?. Recognizing that this skill is mandatory in higher education, she states, “This unit plan was designed for a 12-member supervised research seminar concentrating on the learning of sound, investigative research techniques for college-bound high school juniors and seniors.” She methodically leads them through stages of inquiry and research which culminate in the preparation of a thesis concerning the deaths of the Princes in the Tower. [24]

Kay Janis and Nina Fleming stress the same elements, channeling students’ natural enthusiasm toward discovering their own answers. By working in groups, “doing rather intensive research on specific related topics”, they prepare reports to be shared in seminars. [25]

The process of reaching conclusions involves more than stringing together indisputable bits of evidence that point irresistibly in one direction. It requires the ability to evaluate a variety of often conflicting accounts. Dr. Charles T. Wood cites a number of what he calls “evidentiary problems”, but asserts that they are solvable. Dealing with these puzzles, he says, “should teach students an enormous amount about evidence, its strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the need for clear and logical thinking.” [26] There are a variety of implicit influences that may color the accounts of primary sources; an interested researcher should consider personal loyalties, financial concerns, political goals, and the desire to be morally edifying, as well as more obvious concerns like chronology and location. The process requires complex analysis.

Having students participate in historical research need not stop with the sources directly involved with Richard’s alleged crimes. An equally interesting area concerns what happened to Richard’s reputation after his death. How writers of the Tudor period describe him provides one approach, but Richard’s portraits represent evidence of a different kind. As the King’s reputation degenerated, at least one of his more familiar pictures was altered to reflect his “de-formed” image. How the public conception and the painted one came to overlap is in itself worthy of investigation.

Janis and Fleming also suggest a survey of the literature endeavoring to rehabilitate Richard. They feel that this reinforces interest by speaking directly to the “keen sense of fairness” innate in their students. [26] Investigating the efforts of revisionists, and the response which those efforts elicited, does even more. It introduces students to historiography and the variety of conclusions that can be reached by disinterested, impartial, professional historians.

Involving students in research, something heretofore considered the unique domain of the instructor, removes them from their passive role. It instills enthusiasm and encourages the development of lasting analytical skills. Furthermore, it has positive effects on all involved: the teacher, who must stay up to date on all available sources and options, and the student, who must investigate and evaluate, will both benefit. Dr. Wood asserts that “if success in the classroom depends on a mutual give-and-take in which all parties must give their individual assent to a proposition before they can be said truly to have learned it, then it follows that teaching is itself a form of research, one in which teachers learn even as their students do.” [27]

Using the Debate Surrounding Richard III to Counter Passivity in the Classroom

The majority of students seem to believe that the material they study in History is, as someone once said, “just one damn thing after another” which they are required to commit to memory for some arcane reason.

Their perceived task is to impersonate computers and be programmed with the “facts”, which at the push of the “test” button, they can repeat exactly as originally stated. They perform this function with the enthusiasm of a circus animal jumping through a flaming hoop. The material contains neither relevance to their lives, nor — aside from an occasional anecdote — anything that would fire their curiosity.

There is a way to break the pattern of tedium and non- involvement. Let a class discover that some event is not as simple as it appears, but is instead a subject of intense controversy. Then show them that both sides seem to have convincing arguments. Finally, reveal that the situation deals with issues of justice and injustice, as well as innocence and treachery. The result will be curiosity where little has existed before.

In United States History, the intense debates over John Kennedy’s assassination demonstrate this effect. In European History, an equivalent would be the controversy surrounding the career and personality of England’s Richard III.

Yet more can be derived from studying Richard than simply waking up a sleepy class. Many teachers have discovered that Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time provides a wonderful teaching tool, whether one is a traditionalist, a Ricardian, or neither. Reading the novel serves as an excellent introduction to a course in European History in a way students may not expect. They usually anticipate a quiz on “specifics” from the story, and certainly it is wise to confirm that they have completed the assignment. The question posed to them, however, should deal not with recalled details but with whether they are convinced by Tey that Richard has been wrongly accused of the murder of the Princes. Assure them that the historians and historical figures mentioned in the book are real — and that only Grant and his friends are fictional — then turn them loose with only the admonition that they must cite evidence to support their conclusions.

Read each paper, checking only for accurate references to the novel and appropriate use of supporting evidence from it. In all likelihood, most will be convinced of Tey’s position.

The next day, present arguments contradicting Tey; for example, there is the questionable dating of Hastings’ execution. These contradictions can be pressed with apparent conviction, so as to leave the impression that Tey is a complete idiot. One or two students may challenge those points; but the majority will probably squirm, assume that their conclusions were wrong, and become convinced that their grade has been dealt a disastrous blow.

After watching the perplexed faces and knowing that many are wondering if it is too late to drop the course, ask for a show of hands from those who are now convinced that Richard “did it”. Some, sensing that the prevailing wind has changed, will raise their hands. Ask a second question and it will probably be revealed that some hardy souls remain convinced of Henry’s Tudor’s guilt.

At this stage begin to present plausible arguments blaming the Duke of Buckingham. Finally, ask why it isn’t feasible that the Princes died of natural causes. By now, a class is generally so confused they don’t know whom to believe. They will probably ask the instructor to tell them who really did it. The shock comes when the answer they get is, “I DON’T KNOW!” Certainly, the teacher may present suspicions, but it should be clearly stated that these do not guarantee accuracy.

The first lesson to learn in any History classroom is that the subject matter may be, in the words of Voltaire, “no more than accepted fiction.” [28] What Tey calls “Tonypandy” [29] can reveal itself in our most cherished assumptions, so it is crucial that students not let their guards down. They must challenge, not blindly accept, what they read — as well as what they hear from an instructor –because all sources are biased, seeing in history what they want or expect to see. In short, historians are the most dangerous people in their lives, because they tell the “amnesia victims” who read and listen to them what yesterday was like and who the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are.

To illustrate this point even more emphatically, any teacher may try this experiment. One day in the school year, simply make up something outlandish and watch as the kids obediently write it all down. Convince them, for example, that the pointed German helmets from World War I were lightning rods. Reveal the trick at the end of class; because if you do not do so, your creative fiction may become fact. The implications are scary.

Too many students seem conditioned to accept emphatic statements from anyone claiming to be an “authority”. When authors disguise as fact sweeping assumptions about Richard’s treacherous, self- serving motives or saintly innocence, who will question them?

A History course teaches more than data; it teaches critical evaluation. While a teacher or student must first look for recorded “facts”, he or she must go beyond these to see if they are open to a variety of plausible interpretations. Then the probable ones must be separated from the merely plausible by a close examination of contexts. What is left may not be Tey’struth, but it may well be a closer approximation of it than the alternatives.

A teacher’s main chore is to get classes out of the “acceptance” mode and into a willingness to become at least as critical as the authors of the books they read. The controversy surrounding Richard supplies a perfect vehicle because of the volume of available research and the variety of contrasting conclusions. After they have been exposed to the Tey/Markham school of thought, students should read Alison Weir or Desmond Seward. Ask them to identify specific points of conflict and work out their own conclusions through additional research and logical evaluation. Remind them to be equally critical of the sources they research. Do personal biases or slanted sources color those accounts, whether they be primary or secondary?

Another effective strategy involves the use of fiction. History books have a reputation — all too often richly deserved — for being grimly dull. Historical fiction, when carefully chosen, can be more approachable and can involve students in a consideration of the past in spite of themselves.

In the case of Richard III, there are more titles to choose from than The Daughter of Time. Sharon Kay Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour is long but beautifully written and definitely pro-Richard in its approach. John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting is a complex mixture of alternate history and fantasy, portraying a different fifteenth-century Europe populated by real historical figures. It culminates in Yorkist England, with an heroic Richard as a key figure. Susan Dexter’s The Wizard’s Shadow freely and sympathetically adapts Richard’s career in her setting of a fantasy world.

Of course, the traditional viewpoint has its advocates among novelists. One of the most original is Guy M. Townsend, whose To Prove a Villain lets a contemporary serial-murder mystery provide the storyline.

Students may read any of these novels, or others equally accessible. After completing one of them, they should try to determine, through research, how reliable it is as an historical source.

Richard III provides one more useful way to combine a variety of skills employed by historians. After a class has studied the events, interpretations, and implications of the period, alter the history. Ask students to develop plausible scenarios for what might have happened had Richard defeated Henry Tudor near Bosworth. Suppose Edward V — and the Woodville clan — had controlled the monarchy for the next twenty years? There are also a variety of possibilities involving the Duke of Clarence (most of which George apparently envisioned at one time or another!).

Through studying the world in which Richard III lived, students can learn to become active evaluators. The result will be not only enthusiastic participation but also a critical mind that will have positive effects on citizenship. In today’s world, in which the manipulation of opinion has been raised to the level of an art form, that is a survival skill.


  1. Ruth Anne Vineyard, Oh, Tey, Can You See? (Dallas, Texas: By the Author, Highland Park High School, 4220 Emerson, 1987), p. 1.
  2. Kay Janis and Nina Fleming, “Let’s Do a Project on Richard,” The Ricardian Register, Summer, 1993, p. 7.
  3. Letter, Charles T. Wood to the author, Feb. 11, 1994.
  4. Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1951), p. 29.
  5. Vineyard; Letter, Joe Ann Ricca to the author, March 5, 1994.
  6. Ricca letter, March 5, 1994.
  7. Letter, Joe Ann Ricca to the author, Nov. 3, 1993.
  8. Mary W. Schaller, “Below Castle Stairs by Tarlton, the Fool on the Hill” (unpublished working script, n.d.), p. 9.
  9. Letter, Mary W. Schaller to the author, March 16, 1994; Mary W. Schaller, The Final Trial of Richard III (Woodstock, Illinois, The Dramatic Publishing Company, 1986), pp. 60-61.
  10. Mary W. Schaller, “Tarlton The Fool On The Hill” (unpublished handout, n.d.), n.p.
  11. Richard P. McArthur, “Richard III, His Legislation in Parliament” (paper presented at the Annual General Meeting of the Richard III Society, Inc., American Branch, Newark, N. J., Oct., 1993), p. 15.
  12. Laura V. Blanchard, “Hump? What Hump? Rehabilitating Richard III in America” (paper presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Mid- Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 6, 1993), p. 1.
  13. Tey, p. 78.
  14. Blanchard.
  15. Letter, Dr. Larry C. Thompson to the author, Feb. 27, 1994.
  16. Wood letter.
  17. Ricca letter, Nov. 3, 1993.
  18. Letter, Terrance L. Lewis to the author, Feb. 15, 1994.
  19. Janis and Fleming.
  20. Lewis letter.
  21. Letter, Ann Rabinowitz to the author, April 3, 1994.
  22. Rabinowitz letter.
  23. Rabinowitz letter.
  24. Vineyard.
  25. Janis and Fleming.
  26. Wood letter.
  27. Charles T. Wood, “In Medieval Studies, Is ‘To Teach’ A Transitive Verb?”, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching, III (Fall, 1992), 8.
  28. Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold, The File on the Tsar (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), p. 307.
  29. Tey, 101 ff.

A Sample of Printed Material on Richard III Useful as Classroom Resources

For Primary Sources, Historiographic Background, and Basic Reference:

  • Littleton, Taylor, and Rea, Robert R. To Prove a Villain: The Case of King Richard III. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1964.
    This indispensable volume, now available only through the Richard III Society, includes excerpts from the Croyland (or Crowland) Chronicles, Polydore Vergil’s “official” English History, and Sir Thomas More’s influential and controversial The History of King Richard III. It also contains selections from other equally significant and controversial Ricardian historians over the years, such as Horace Walpole and Clements Markham, as well Shakespeare’s Richard III and Tey’s The Daughter of Time in their entirety.

Popular Recent Biographical and Historiographical Studies:

  • Kendall, Paul Murray. Richard III. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975.
    The most popular scholarly revisionist biography, this book portrays Richard in heroic rather than villainous terms. It originally appeared in 1955.
  • Pollard, A.J. Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.
    This is a gorgeously illustrated and meticulously structured volume. Although the author holds to the traditional beliefs that maintain Richard was the murderer, he explains how myths and exaggerations could creep into the story. On a topic that too often is marked by strident emotionalism, Pollard’s restraint is commendable.
  • Potter, Jeremy. Good King Richard? An Account of Richard III and His Reputation. London: Constable and Company Ltd., 1983.
    This volume provides an overview of Richard’s life as well as a detailed analysis of the centuries-old dispute between those who condemn the King as a villain and those who defend him. Because the author is identified as Chairman of the Richard III Society, one might expect a partisan slant; but the book is thorough, balanced, and scholarly.
  • Ross, Charles. Richard III. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1982.
    Ross’s volume is the standard traditionalist biography of Richard, scholarly and balanced in tone. It avoids the extremes taken by writers seeking more popular audiences.
  • St. Aubyn, Giles. The Year of Three Kings: 1483. New York: Atheneum, 1983.
    St. Aubyn provides a brief, readable account of Richard’s rise and fall, attempting to supply a narrative of events as well as a critique of eyewitness accounts. The book reaches the traditional conclusions, accepting the King’s guilt. While some of his assumptions can be challenged, the author at least raises the crucial questions and makes the reader consider them.
  • Seward, Desmond. Richard III: England’s Black Legend. New York: Franklin Watts, 1984.
    The title says it all. Seward writes popular, readable histories on a variety of subjects. Here he claims to be proving Richard’s guilt, but his assumptions — and excessive use of value-laden adjectives and adverbs — weaken his argument. Still, its popularity alone should earn it consideration and analysis.
  • Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower, London: The Bodley Head, 1992.
    This book, which has achieved notoriety in Ricardian circles, is an opinion-driven justification of the traditionalist side based on uncritical use of sources and prior assumptions accepted as fact. Because of its recent selection by a national book club, it may be easily obtainable. Its contents should be scrutinized mainly because of the questionable methods employed by the author.

Plays Dealing with Richard III:

  • Schaller, Mary W. The Final Trial of Richard III. Woodstock, Illinois: The Dramatic Publishing Company, 1986.
    This one-act play was written specifically for school use and seeks to involve the audience by making them the jury at the conclusion. The play has two different final speeches, depending on the jury’s decision.
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of King Richard III. 1597.
    When it comes to Richard III’s enduring reputation, no more influential source exists than Shakespeare. Principally through this play (although with foreshadowings in Henry VI Part II and Part III), the playwright develops a character of unsurpassed malevolence. Sir Laurence Olivier’s film interpretation is readily available on videotape.

Novels Dealing with Richard III:

  • Dexter, Susan. The Wizard’s Shadow. New York: Ballantine Books, 1993.
    Dexter tells a standard fantasy yarn based on the revisionist version of Richard III’s story. The ingredients of the story are recognizeable in both genres. There is a young prince about to inherit the throne but somehow dominated by his evil mother; opposing the evil is the respected, hard-working, and selfless uncle. Dexter makes no attempt to mirror reality the way John M. Ford does in The Dragon Waiting, but her entertaining version will appeal to fantasy lovers, thus giving the teacher another way to ignite student interest.
  • Ford, John M. The Dragon Waiting. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.
    Although Richard III is at the center of the conflict in this award-winning alternate history/fantasy novel, Ford displays a prodigious command of a variety of periods and locales. The majority of the characters are historical figures who are placed in a world of wizards and magic. The instructional utility of this kind of story comes from comparing the real motives and actions with those in the fantasy world. Characterizations — in particular that of the villain, a wizard named Morton — should be recognizeable to revisionists.
  • Penman, Sharon Kay. The Sunne in Splendour. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
    This long but beautifully written biographical novel tells Richard’s story while doing the impossible; it makes sense out of the Wars of the Roses and makes each character memorable. Penman makes a solid case for the revisionist side. Students who enjoy reading will be fascinated by this book; having them verify the author’s descriptions and assessments can lead to interesting research.
  • Tey, Josephine. The Daughter of Time. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1951.
    Certainly the most influential of all Ricardian novels, this “mystery” describes a convalescing detective’s curiosity over a portrait of Richard. Convinced that it does not show the face of a murderer, he and a young associate embark on a research-driven investigation to discover the truth. Although their revisionist findings are nothing new — they reflect Clements Markham in particular – – their revelations about the nature of “accepted history” make this little novel a required introduction to the controversy surrounding Richard.
  • Townsend, Guy M. To Prove a Villain. Menlo Park, California: Perseverance Press, 1985. This is a contemporary murder mystery set in a small college town. The crimes suggest the existence of a serial killer who is seeking to “avenge” the deaths of the Princes in the Tower by going after people with the same last names as the men reputed to have done that deed. It supplies a clever “hook” for introducing the controversy to mystery fans. The middle portion of the story takes place in a History classroom and gives the author a chance to present the traditionalist position through the voice of his main character, a professor.

Published Lesson Plans:

  • Vineyard, Ruth Anne. Oh, Tey, Can You See? Dallas, Texas: By the Author, Highland Park High, 4220 Emerson, 1987.
    This is a detailed, step-by-step seminar unit, designed to teach research skills to college-bound students. Available from the Richard III Society, it comes with teacher instructions as well as the individual tasks which are carefully staged.
  • Janis, Kay, and Fleming, Nina. “Let’s Do a Project on Richard.” The Ricardian Register. XVIII, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), 6-8.
    The authors describe the development, implementation, and very positive outcome of their seminar class.

Sample Essays for Adapting Novels to Classroom Use: The following essays, related to the list of suggested novels, show a variety of classroom approaches. The questions are divided into lettered sub-sections which may be considered separate individual assignments or parts of one extended essay.

  • For Dexter’s The Wizard’s Shadow:
    The plot of The Wizard’s Shadow is based on the conflict between Richard and the Woodvilles for control of the throne.

    • A) It can be said that Susan Dexter is a “revisionist” when it comes to assessing the character of King Richard III. What elements in the novel can you cite as evidence to substantiate that conclusion?
    • B) Since many of the leading characters in the novel are based on historical figures, how do their appearances, personalities, and actions in the novel reflect their portraits in history books? Cite examples as evidence.
  • For Ford’s The Dragon Waiting:
    • A) Read a narrative description of the Battle of Bosworth Field, such as that found in Alison Plowden’s The House of Tudor (New York: Stein and Day, 1976, pp. 22-23). What are the differences and similarities, in terms of historical description, between the account provided in your non-fiction source and the one provided in the novel,The Dragon Waiting? Note characters and their personalities, specific events, and relevant descriptive details; choose several examples to compare.
    • B) Aside from the obvious fantasy elements and the final battle’s outcome, to what degree can the novel The Dragon Waiting be considered a reliable “historical source”? Does it have any advantages over conventional history texts? Any disadvantages?
  • For Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour:
    The Sunne in Splendour covers the career of Richard III from the age of seven until his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

    • A) Since it is largely biographical, the novel focuses on the York family and the life of the English nobility. How does the book portray the role played by the commonpeople in the Wars of the Roses? How are their attitudes, values, and interests different from those of the nobles? Cite examples from the novel to substantiate your conclusions.
    • B) If Richard had won at Bosworth Field, what kind of ruler does Penman’s description suggest he would have been? Does she suggest that the kingship CHANGED him in any way? What evidence can you cite from the novel to justify your opinion?
  • For Tey’s The Daughter of Time:
    Historian Alison Plowden [The House of Tudor (New York: Stein and Day, 1976, pp. 15-16] writes: “Controversy about the fate of ‘the little Princes in the Tower’ is still very much alive and, in the absence of any startling new evidence, it will probably remain so.” With regard to that statement, address the following. Remember that: an effective argument = opinion + supporting evidence.

    • A) Does Tey’s novel constitute “startling new evidence”? Why or why not?
    • B) Does the investigation convince you that Richard has been wronged by historians? Why or why not?
    • C) Given what you have learned from the novel, why do discrepancies, such as those described, exist in history books?
  • For Townsend’s To Prove a Villain:
    Amid the murder mystery, Townsend seeks to “set the record straight” regarding the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

    • A) Does Dr. Forest’s presentation convince you that those who question Richard’s guilt have very little on which to base their arguments? Explain why you reach your conclusion and cite examples from the novel as supporting evidence.
    • B) It has been said that people on either side of the argument concerning Richard’s alleged crimes are totally intolerant of the views held by people on the other. They tend to react emotionally and believe only what they want to believe. Does To Prove a Villain provide evidence to support such a generalization? Support your argument with examples from the novel.