The Trials of Richard III

The Trials of Richard III

  • The Daughter of Time (Tey, 1951) 
  • The Trial of Richard III (ITV, 1984) 
  • The Final Trial of Richard III
    (Mary Schaller, 1986) 
  • The Supreme Court Trials (1996-97)

 


Above, left: A. J. Pollard fails to convince the jury of Richard III’s guilt in 1984 televised trial. Above, right: U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist acquits Richard III at Indiana University moot court, 1996.


There have been many unsolved murders and tantalizing mysteries over the course of history, but something about the case of Richard III and his missing nephews — possibly the mind-expanding notion that he may have been framed — has consistently inspired dramatic and popular treatments that borrow from the criminal justice system.

Arguably the defining moment in popular fascination with a rehabilitated Richard III was the publication in 1951 of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a mystery thriller in which a bedridden detective becomes obsessed with the case and reputation of Richard III.

A trial format has been popular, too. In England, in 1984, Richard’s case was tried before a retired Lord Chancellor and a randomly-selected jury in a replica of the Old Bailey for ITV (Richard was acquitted); in 1996-97, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist heard Richard’s case twice, and acquitted him both times. Drama teacher Mary Schaller has written a play, The Final Trial of Richard III, for high school students, and in this play as in the ITV production, the audience serves as the jury and delivers a verdict.

Both the detective format and the trial format, or at least a challenge to determine Richard’s guilt or innocence, have shown their capacity to capture and engage the attention of high school and undergraduate students.