Richard III: The Making of a Legend – Chapter II

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Murph, Roxane C. Richard III: The Making of a Legend. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977, reprinted 1984. Copyright © 1977, Roxane C. Murph; used with permission. Permission to reproduce from this electronic edition 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 notice appears as part of the reproduction. Scanning and HTML coding by Cheryl Rothwell.

The Short Reign of Richard III

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

King Henry IV, Pt 11. I.

On April 9, 1483, three weeks before his 41st birthday, Edward IV died.[1] A day or two prior to his death he had added a codicil to his will naming his brother Richard Protector and Defensor of the Realm and giving into his care his young son, soon to be King Edward V.[2] Before his death Edward had sought to reconcile the warring factions in his court. He realized that when he was gone each side would attempt to gain control of the young king, and a civil war could well be the result. Therefore, in a dramatic deathbed scene, he asked Lord Hastings and the queen’s son, the Marquis of Dorset, to clasp hands and swear love and friendship to each other.[3] The reconciliation remained in effect until the king drew his last breath.

Richard, who was at Middleham, did not learn of his brother’s death for nearly a week. Even then, the news came, not from the queen or the council, but in a frantic note from Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain, who informed Richard of his appointment as Protector and urged him to secure the person of the young king and come to London with an armed escort as soon as possible.[4]

The new king, the twelve-year-old Edward, had been living for many years at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh Marches under the care of his maternal uncle Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers. There he ruled through a council whose titular head was the Bishop of Worcester but which was dominated by the Woodvilles and their adherents.

As soon as Richard learned of his brother’s death, he wrote to Rivers to inquire when, and by what route, the young king would be brought to London, in order that they might meet and enter the city together. Richard waited in vain for official notification from London of his brother’s death and his own appointment as Protector. Nevertheless, he wrote to the queen to express his condolences and to pledge his loyalty to the new king. Alarmed by a second letter from Hastings, which informed him that, contrary to custom, the Woodvilles were taking over the government and had with difficulty been persuaded to confine the king’s escort to two thousand armed men, Richard wrote to the council.[5] He reminded the members that according to law, custom, and his brother’s will, he was Protector of the Realm and cautioned that no action could be taken in council contrary to any of these.[6] The law to which Richard referred would today be called “recognized precedent” since no laws of the time governed either the succession or the formation of a regency.[7] This council itself was, strictly speaking, no longer a legal body since the king’s council, made up of advisors appointed by him, died with the king, just as parliament did. This did not, however, prevent the queen from attempting to use the council to seize power for herself and her family.

Shortly after Richard had written to the queen and the council, he received a letter from the Duke of Buckingham who was then in residence at his castle at Brecon in South Wales. Buckingham offered the Protector his support and the service of one thousand armed men. Richard accepted the offer of support, but asked the duke to bring only three hundred men, the same number he, himself, planned to bring.[8] Before starting on his journey south, Richard personally administered to all his retainers and the magistrates of the City of York, an oath of allegiance to the new king.[9] On April 20 he set out with his party. It was arranged that he and Buckingham would meet Rivers and the king at Northampton on April 29.

The news which Richard received en route was not reassuring. Hastings reported from London that the queen’s faction, ignoring Richard’s appointment as Protector, had gone ahead with plans for an immediate coronation.[10] Once the king was crowned a Protector would, of course, be unnecessary, and the Woodvilles could rule through the child king.

The Woodvilles were taking a desperate gamble in order to hold on to power. They were hated by the old nobility and the commons for their greed and arrogance and, unless they were able to retain their hold over the new king, they could not hope to survive. To do this they must, at all costs, prevent the Protectorship under Richard of Gloucester.

The Woodvilles’ maneuvers to maintain their position had begun as soon it became apparent that Edward IV was dying. They were strongly entrenched in the council, for it included among its members the Marquis of Dorset, the queen’s elder son by her first marriage, and three of her brothers — Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, Sir Edward Woodville, and Anthony, Earl Rivers. In addition, members of the upper clergy whom Edward had protected against a rising tide of anti-clericalism which had swept the country, could be counted on for support. Moreover, Dorset, as Constable of the Tower, controlled both the treasure and the armaments of the kingdom, and Rivers controlled the young king.[11]

The queen’s first move in the power struggle was taken while Richard was en route to Northampton. She called the council together and secured approval for a proposal that a fleet be put together under the command of Sir Edward Woodville, ostensibly for the purpose of fighting off French privateers who were harrying English shipping.[12] Without waiting for permission from the council, Dorset gave his uncle, Sir Edward, part of the royal treasure and divided the rest between himself and his mother. He and the queen then appointed a commission, made up of members of the family and their adherents, to collect the tax which had been levied by the last parliament.[13] All of these actions were illegal, but Dorset finally overreached himself when he proposed that the coronation be held on May 4.[14] Had the Woodvilles succeeded in their attempt to have the coronation over and done with before the Protector reached London they would have been firmly entrenched in power, for the king, the Tower, the treasure, the fleet, and the council — in short, the whole apparatus of the government — would have been securely in their hands.

The queen’s next move encountered some resistance from the council, for many of the members were becoming thoroughly alarmed by the actions of the Woodvilles. When the council attempted to define the powers of the Protector, the queen’s faction claimed that the title carried with it no more than first place on the council and even that position was to last only until the coronation. Some members, however, reminded the queen that the council itself had no power at all to decide the matter. It was at this point that Richard’s letter reached the council and it served to gain him the support of all except those committed to the Woodvilles. Dorset openly asserted that if Richard gained ascendency over the king, neither the Woodvilles nor their friends would be safe. As a result, the council voted to deprive the Protector of any power. Dorset thereupon wrote confidently to Earl Rivers instructing him to be sure that he and the king reached London by May 1.[15]

When Richard arrived at Northampton on April 29, the king had already passed through the town and was lodged at Stony Stratford, fourteen miles further along the road to London. Rivers assured Richard that the move had been necessary because Northampton had insufficient accommodations for the party. Rivers, however, planned to stay the night in Northampton and, when later that same day Buckingham arrived, the three noblemen spent a seemingly friendly evening together. The hour was late when Rivers retired to his inn and, when he had gone, Richard and Buckingham discussed their plans.

The following morning Rivers awoke to find his inn surrounded by armed men wearing Gloucester’s badge of the White Boar. Guards had been posted along the road to Stony Stratford to intercept any messages he might try to send, and before Richard and Buckingham departed they placed Rivers under arrest.[16] When the two dukes reached Stony Stratford the king and his escort were mounted and ready to leave. At the king’s side were an old retainer, Sir Thomas Vaughn, and Lord Richard Grey, the queen’s younger son by her first marriage. Richard ordered the arrest of Grey and Vaughn and excused his action to the angry and astonished young king, explaining that these two, and others of the queen-mother’s faction, had hastened his father’s death by encouraging him in his excesses, thus ruining his health. He also charged that they had plotted to circumvent Edward IV’s will by depriving Richard, first of the Protectorship, and ultimately of his life.[17] Thereupon, Richard dismissed the king’s escort and conducted his nephew back to Northampton. All of the king’s Woodville attendants were replaced by men loyal to the Protector, following which Richard sent an explanation of his actions to the Lords and the magistrates of London. Woodville adherents also raced to London with the news of what had happened to their well-laid plans.[18]

When Dorset learned of the events at Northampton, he tried desperately but unsuccessfully, to rally the support of the Lords to raise a force to take the young king away from the Protector. When this attempt failed, he, his mother, her brother Lionel, Bishop of Salisbury, her five young daughters, and her son Richard, Duke of York, went hastily to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.[19] They took with them not only their share of the treasure but much of the late king’s furniture, plate, jewels, and tapestries. The queen was in such a panic to save her possessions that she ordered a wall in the sanctuary broken through in order to get them in more quickly.[20]

The council voiced approval of the actions Richard had taken in regard to the young king, and on May 4, the royal party entered London to be greeted with great enthusiasm by the mayor, aldermen, and thousands of cheering citizens. The king was conducted to the palace of the Bishop of London where the Lords were assembled to pay him homage, and Richard went to Crosby’s Place, his London home. Thus ended the day which the Woodvilles had chosen for the coronation of Edward V.

Richard’s first task was to restore orderly government. He called a council which included many Woodville adherents. It was, in fact, composed of substantially the same membership as the one which had preceded it. The new council, acting in accordance with the late king’s will, proclaimed Richard Protector and Defensor of the Realm.[21]

Richard, in turn, promised to be guided by council decisions. At the suggestion of Buckingham, the council decided to move the king to the royal apartments in the Tower and set June 24 as the coronation day.[22] Summonses were sent for a parliament to convene on the day following the coronation. The council also agreed to propose to parliament that the Protectorship be continued until the king came of age in order to forestall the formation of factions which might seek to control the young king.[23]

One of Richard’s first acts as Protector was to offer a pardon to all soldiers and sailors who would desert Edward Woodville and proclaim their loyalty to the new regime. Most of them accepted the offer, but Woodville himself escaped to Brittany with a large share of the treasure. This money was eventually turned over to Henry Tudor and it helped to finance his invasion in 1485.[24]

Buckingham quickly emerged as one of the most powerful and influential members of the council, overshadowing men such as Hastings and Stanley who had served under Edward IV. His rapid elevation to power caused jealousy which in turn led to intrigue between Hastings and the Woodvilles and, eventually, to Hastings’ death. Richard, of course, appreciated Buckingham’s loyal support, but he may have been first drawn to him by the resemblance to George of Clarence, Richard’s late brother. Another mark in Buckingham’s favor was the fact that he had come to court in the new reign and was, therefore, uninvolved in the entanglements and intrigues of the late reign. Richard was, no doubt, aware that Buckingham’s bitter hatred of the Woodvilles, caused by his forced marriage to Katherine Woodville in his early adolescence, was a prime factor in his decision to join ranks with the Protector. Whatever the reasons, for the next few months Buckingham was Richard’s most ardent and outspoken supporter. “He created, he was, the party of the Protector.”[25]

Richard’s fear that factions might form within the council proved well-founded. To counter Buckingham’s rising influence, Hastings and his friends, including Rotherham, Morton, and Stanley, began meeting secretly and intriguing with the queen, using as their go-between Jane Shore, the mistress of the late king and more recently of Hastings and Dorset. Apparently they planned to end the Protectorship and restore the Woodvilles to power.[26] Had they succeeded, the Hastings-Woodville faction would have been able to rule through the young king, and the position, possibly even the life, of the Protector would have been in jeopardy.

Richard was aware of what was going on and the danger the conspirators presented to his position. On June 10, he wrote to the magistrates of York asking them to send as many armed men as they could spare to assist him against “the Queen, her blood adherents, and affinity, which have intended, and daily doth intend, to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin the duke of Buckingham, and the old royal blood of this realm.[27] The city sent three hundred men, who did not reach London, however, until after Richard’s coronation.

On June 13, the council met in the Tower. Richard opened the meeting with the announcement that a conspiracy against the government had been discovered. He accused the queen and her followers, including Jane Shore, Stanley, Morton, Rotherham, and Hastings of complicity in the plot. Hastings denied the charge, but the four men were arrested and Hastings was taken at once to the Tower green and summarily executed.[28]

A herald was sent through the city to read a proclamation justifying the Protector’s action. Hastings, Richard charged, had been involved in a plot against the Protector and Buckingham, and his immediate execution was necessary in order to prevent any attempt to rescue him. It seems remarkable that the execution, without a trial, of a man as popular as Hastings raised no protest among the citizens. It is quite likely, however, that many Londoners were already convinced that Richard intended to take the crown.[29]

Richard took Hastings’ widow under his protection and permitted her to keep all of her husband’s property. Possibly this was Richard’s way of atoning for an act he may have deeply regretted.[30] Stanley and Rotherham, however, were imprisoned only briefly, and were later restored to the council. At Buckingham’s request, Morton was placed in his charge and sent to Brecon Castle in Wales. On June 25, at Pontefract, Rivers, Grey, and Vaughn were executed for treason, thus ending Richard hoped, all danger of further Woodville intrigue.[31]

Most of the council members had supported Richard’s actions with regard to Hastings and the other conspirators, and they now acceded to his request that Elizabeth Woodville and her children be asked to leave sanctuary. Even if she refused, her younger son was to be brought out to join his brother and to attend the coronation. The council agreed with Buckingham, who argued that since the children had done no wrong they had no need of sanctuary. On June 16, a delegation from the council, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, went to Westminster and persuaded the reluctant queen to give up her son. Prince Richard thereupon joined his brother in the Tower.[32]

In London, where the council had again postponed the coronation, there were rumors that Edward V would lose his crown before long. The reason for the postponement was the startling news, imparted to Richard and some members of the council by Bishop Stillington of Bath and Wells, to the effect that prior to the Woodville marriage the late king had made a pre-contract of marriage with Dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewesbury. [33] If true, this made the Woodville marriage invalid in the eyes of the church and made the children of the marriage illegitimate. Although such pre-contracts were frequently set aside, and it is unknown what, if any, evidence Stillington produced to prove his claim, Richard accepted the story. The history of Clarence’s trial and execution, and Stillington’s subsequent arrest, have led several historians to suggest that Clarence knew the secret and was put to death at the insistence of the Woodvilles in order to protect their position.[34]

On Sunday, June 22, at Paul’s Cross, Friar Ralph Shaa, the brother of the Mayor of London, preached a sermon, taking for his text, “Bastard slips shall not take root.” He told the congregation of the pre-contract and declared the Duke of Gloucester to be the true heir to the throne. In other parts of the city other preachers, acting on instructions from the Duke of Buckingham, even went so far as to impugn the legitimacy of Edward IV himself. This scandalous accusation had been levied years before by Clarence, when he had aimed at the throne, but there is no evidence to show that Richard condoned this attack on his mother’s reputation. The fact that he moved into his mother’s house at this time rather tends to prove the opposite.[35]

On Monday following Dr. Shaa’s sermon, the Duke of Buckingham addressed the assembled Lords and on Tuesday he spoke to the magistrates and chief citizens of London at the Guildhall. The crown, he told both groups, belonged rightfully to Richard of Gloucester. On Wednesday, June 25, a parliament in fact, if not in name, met at Westminster and drew up a petition in which they reviewed the charges relating to the pre-contract and the illegitimacy of Edward’s children and implored Richard to take the throne. Their petition was unanimously approved and was formally presented to Richard at Baynard’s Castle on the following day. After a show of reluctance, he accepted the petition and the crown. The whole assembly then repaired to Westminster where Richard seated himself on the marble chair of the King’s Bench and, on that day, he began his reign. On July 6, in a magnificent ceremony, Richard and Anne were crowned in Westminster Abbey, with virtually every peer and leading citizen in attendance. [36]

Two weeks after the coronation the new king and queen set out on progress throughout the kingdom, accompanied by many bishops, lords, judges, and household officials, but no armed men. At Gloucester, they were joined by Buckingham, who had remained in London and was now on his way to Brecon. It was to be the last meeting between the king and his chief supporter.[37]

When Richard reached Lincoln early in October he learned, to his great surprise and dismay, that Buckingham had revolted against him. The uprising had begun in the southern and southwestern counties as a Lancastrian and Woodville attempt to put Edward V back on the throne. By the time Buckingham reached Brecon, plans for the rebellion had already been laid. Apprised of the plot, and flattered by the astute Bishop Morton, the duke quickly became involved in the treason.[38] It is quite possible that Morton may have convinced Buckingham, who was descended from Thomas of Woodstock, the youngest son of Edward III, that he had a chance to claim the throne for himself. On the other hand, Morton may have persuaded Buckingham to play the king-maker once more by supporting the claim of Henry Tudor. If Morton adopted the latter course, he no doubt argued persuasively that Tudor’s chances of winning the crown were greater than Buckingham’s since Henry’s mother had great Lancastrian support and his promise to marry Elizabeth of York would gain him the aid and friendship of the Woodvilles and many disaffected Yorkists.[39]

For reasons known only to himself, Buckingham agreed to lend his support to Tudor’s cause. The leaders of the revolt already in progress were informed that they could count on the help of Buckingham and his large band of armed retainers. Within days, however, Buckingham and Morton were able to turn the focus of the rebellion from Edward V to Henry Tudor by informing the rebels that both the erstwhile young king and his brother had been put to death in an unknown manner.[40] Whether the two boys were indeed dead at this time is a point of much debate.

On October 15 Richard issued a proclamation declaring Buckingham a traitor and instructing his subjects to take up arms against him. The proclamation forbade any man to injure the person or possessions of any of Buckingham’s followers who remained loyal to the king. This worked to the advantage of Lord Stanley, whose wife, the mother of Henry Tudor, was deeply involved in the rebellion, but who chose at this time to remain personally loyal to the king.[41] It was fortunate for Stanley that he did, for the rebellion was a disaster from the moment Buckingham assumed leadership of it. Buckingham’s troops, many of whom had been forced to join his army against their will, deserted in large numbers.[42] He was attacked during the march through Wales by bands of men loyal to the king. It was the weather, however, which proved his undoing. A great storm, known to this day as Buckingham’s Great Water, arose and washed out roads, bridges, and fields. Morton, sensing that disaster impended, deserted the duke and fled to Flanders to await a better opportunity.[43]

Buckingham, no doubt realizing that he had been used and discarded by the bishop, donned rough work clothes and fled to Shropshire where he sought refuge in the home of a retainer. The enormous price on Buckingham’s head put too great a strain on the loyalty of his retainer and Buckingham was turned over to agents of the king. He was brought to Salisbury where, hysterical with fear, he related all the details of the plot and begged for an interview with Richard. His request was denied and on November 2, in the market square, the would-be kingmaker was beheaded.[44] When Henry Tudor, whose fleet was anchored off Plymouth, learned of the fate of Buckingham and the rebellion, he returned to France.[45]

Richard showed great clemency to most of the rebels. Ten of the leaders were executed but many of the others were pardoned. Lady Stanley was deprived of her titles and estates which were given to her husband and she herself was placed in her lord’s custody. Both Stanley and Northumberland profited greatly from the confiscated estates of the Duke of Buckingham.[46]

On January 23, 1484, two months after the collapse of Buckingham’s rebellion, Richard’s only parliament convened at Westminster. Chancellor Russell delivered the opening address. In addition to the Titulus Regis, which confirmed the act of the previous parliament settling the crown on Richard,[47] this parliament passed several important pieces of legislation. Benevolences were made illegal and the legal machinery of government was reformed in order to protect the ordinary citizen. These acts, passed at the request of the king and his council, earned for Richard the support of the commons. The nobility and gentry, who had for years been using the law to overawe and prey on the lower classes, were alienated by Richard’s insistence on reform. One interesting and probably noncontroversial act passed in this reign strictly regulated the activities of foreign merchants in England. At Richard’s request a clause was inserted which exempted any foreigner engaged in the printing, binding, or selling of books. This was the first piece of legislation in England which protected and fostered the art of printing.[48]

Early in March 1484, after Richard had sworn publicly to protect and find suitable husbands for them, the five daughters of Elizabeth Woodville came out of sanctuary.[49] It is probable, though not certain, that Elizabeth joined them. She was given a pension of seven hundred marks a year and each of her daughters was provided with a small dowry. Elizabeth wrote to her son Dorset, who was in Brittany, telling him it was safe for him to return to England. He did, indeed, attempt to return but was captured by agents of Henry Tudor and taken to Paris.[50] Obviously at this time the Woodvilles felt that they had nothing to fear from King Richard.

In April 1484 the royal couple’s only child, Edward, Prince of Wales, died at Middleham Castle.[51] Although he had been sickly from birth, his death was a blow from which his parents never fully recovered. On August 21, Richard appointed his nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, as Lieutenant of Ireland, a position traditionally given by the Yorkist kings to the heir apparent.[52]

On March 11, 1485, Anne Neville died, probably of tuberculosis. Almost immediately rumors circulated to the effect that the king planned to marry his niece Elizabeth and that he may have hurried his wife into her grave. It is possible that some people believed that Richard would make Elizabeth his wife in order to undercut Henry Tudor whose bid for Yorkist support was based on his promise to marry the young heiress. At the urging of his councillors, Richard appeared before the magistrates of London and the Lords and firmly denied that there was any truth in the slander, charging that it was the work of Tudor’s agents.[53]

Henry Tudor, encouraged by the promise of French aid, had already begun serious preparations for his invasion. Richard, realizing the gravity of the situation, made plans for the defense of his realm. He sent a fleet to guard the Channel and reinforced the defenses of the towns. Commissions of Array were sent to all the counties.[54]

Lord Stanley, stepfather to Henry Tudor, now began his maneuvers, designed to assure his place on the winning side, whichever it turned out to be. He asked the king’s permission to return to his estates so that he would be in a better position to raise support for the king in case of an invasion. The Stanleys had a long history of treason to both Lancaster and York but had always managed not only to avoid the usual consequences of treason but also to reap great rewards in the bargain. Richard, who was well aware of Stanley’s record and character, agreed to the request. To conciliate his councillors, however, he sent for Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, to act as his father’s deputy and as surety for his father’s loyalty.[55]

On Sunday, August 7, 1485, Henry Tudor landed with his army at Milford Haven in South Wales.[56] His soldiers were, for the great part, criminals released from the jails of Normandy on the condition that they accompany Tudor to England.[57] Their generals were Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Lancastrian Earl of Pembroke, and John, Earl of Oxford. Henry Tudor had never fought a battle in his life.[58]

Tudor, who had chosen for his banner the red dragon of Cadwallader, picked up some support from the Welsh who saw him as a new King Arthur come to claim his and their rightful place as rulers of England. He won the support of the leading chieftain of Wales, Rhys ap Thomas. by promising him the lieutenantship of Wales for life.[59] This greatly strengthened his cause, but his hopes of a general uprising in his favor proved to be unfounded.

When Richard learned of the invasion, he instructed his captains to join him at Leicester. Lord Stanley, upon being ordered to meet the king at Nottingham, sent word that he was suffering from the sweating sickness and was therefore unable to obey the summons. Lord Strange, captured during an attempted escape, admitted that his uncle, Sir William Stanley, planned to betray the king. He insisted, however, that his father intended no treason, and wrote to Lord Stanley begging him to join the king with his retainers.[60]

The Stanleys were not Richard’s only source of worry. He learned that the Earl of Northumberland, the Commissioner of Array for the East Riding, had failed to summon the men of York, possibly because he resented their loyalty to Richard. When the magistrates of York were apprised of the situation, they sent eighty men to aid the king.[61]

On August 19, having learned that Tudor’s army was marching toward Leicester, Richard turned south from Nottingham with his forces. He was joined by the Duke of Norfolk, but the Earl of Northumberland and his army lagged behind. To the west lay the armies of the Stanleys, and bringing up the rear was the rag-tag collection of French criminals and Welshmen marching under the banner of Henry Tudor. En route, a secret meeting took place at Atherstone, during which the Stanleys promised Henry Tudor that they would aid him in the coming battle, throwing in their forces when they felt the time was right. Henry fully realized, however, that if Richard’s army seemed to be winning, the Stanleys would not hesitate to support the king. He never forgave them for their equivocation.[62]

Late in the day of August 20, Northumberland and his army reached Leicester. His men, he told Richard, were exhausted after their long march and would do better service in the rear, rather than in the thick of the fighting. Richard no doubt knew that he could not count on Percy. All his life Percy had resented the power Richard held over the men of the north — power that had been exercised by the Percy family for generations and which they felt was rightfully theirs. In deed, it is quite probable that Percy had already secured a pardon from Henry Tudor in the hope that Henry would be victorious and would, in return for such support, restore the Percies to a position of power in the north.[63]

On August 22, on Redmore Plain a few miles outside the little town of Market Bosworth, the king addressed his troops. His sleep had been disturbed by dreams, and those around him noted that he was paler than usual. No matter who won the field that day, he told his men, the England that they knew would be destroyed. If Tudor won, he would crush the supporters of the House of York and rule by fear. If Richard won, he too would rule by force since his attempts to win loyalty by fairness and kindness had failed. The absence of a chaplain to say mass before the battle was intentional, the king declared. If their quarrel were God’s, no prayers were needed; if not, their prayers were idle blasphemy. [64]

Richard then sent a last message to Lord Stanley, ordering him to join the royal army if he valued his son’s life. Stanley replied that he had other sons and for the present was not inclined to join the king. In a burst of anger, Richard ordered the immediate execution of Strange, but thought better of it and decided instead to keep him under close guard.[65]

As Richard prepared to go into battle some members of his household begged him not to wear the crown which would mark him out for destruction by the enemy. He replied that he would live and die King of England. Then, surrounded by his knights and esquires of the body, he rode out to join battle with the Welsh challenger.[66]

Henry Tudor had probably five thousand men in the field, of which two thousand were French. Lord Stanley’s force numbered between thirty-five hundred and four thousand, and his brother, Sir William, had about twenty-five hundred men under his command. Richard’s army was about twice as large as Tudors, but smaller than the combined Tudor-Stanley forces. Three thousand of Richard’s nine thousand men were under the command of Northumberland and so took no part in the fighting.[67]

In the midst of the battle, a messenger pointed out to Richard a figure on horseback, motionless on a hill. Above his head waved the banner of the red dragon of Cadwallader and surrounding him were about two hundred and fifty armed men. Quickly Richard decided to take the one desperate chance which must end in brilliant victory or disastrous defeat.[68] If he and the men of his household could cross in front of Sir William Stanley’s much larger force, he would have a chance to reach Tudor and destroy him and his cause with one blow. The terrible news that Norfolk and Lord Ferrers had been killed reached Richard and he spied a messenger from Tudor, hurrying to inform Lord Stanley of their deaths. Northumberland refused to obey when the king ordered him to move in to support the royal forces and Richard knew that his only chance for survival lay in Tudor’s death.[69]

Rejecting Catesby’s plea to flee while there was yet time, Richard and his household knights mounted their horses. Richard gripped his battle axe, signalled his trumpeters, and he and his men started slowly down the hill. At the bottom they broke into a gallop. Past the Stanley lines they rode, straight toward the ranks of the Tudor guards. Richard first encountered huge Sir John Cheney, felled him with his axe, and pushed on toward the pretender. Tudor recoiled from the sight of the slight, menacing figure slashing with his battle axe through the guards.[70] Richard reached William Brandon, Henry’s standard bearer, and struck him down. Just as Richard and his knights reached their target, the troops of Sir William Stanley bore down on them. Part of the king’s men turned to meet the cavalry charge, and Richard and the rest of his men pressed on toward Tudor. Suddenly, his men began to fall about him, hacked by the weapons of their enemies. “Treason! Treason” cried the king as he pressed on toward his rival. With all his household knights dead or wounded, he fought on until the blows of a dozen weapons smashed and hacked at him through his armor and beat him down to the ground.[71]

After the battle, according to legend, Sir William Stanley retrieved Richard’s golden crown from under a bramble bush and placed it on the head of Henry Tudor. Richard’s naked body, crusted with blood from his many wounds and with a felon’s halter around the neck, was slung across the back of a horse and taken to Leicester.[72] For two days the body lay at the Grey Friars, exposed for all to see, until the friars finally received permission to bury it in an unmarked grave. Years later, Henry VII allotted the sum of ten pounds and one shilling to raise a modest tomb for the man he had displaced. At the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, Richard’s tomb was destroyed and his remains were thrown into the River Soar.[73]

There are the essential facts concerning the life and reign of Richard III. But a mere recounting of the facts leaves several important questions unanswered. What became of the princes in the Tower? Were they murdered and, if so, who was responsible for the crime? Must Richard take, or share, responsibility for the deaths of Edward of Lancaster, Henry VI, Clarence, and his wife Anne? What sort of man was Richard, physically, emotionally, and mentally? Many different theories have been suggested to answer each of these questions over the past five hundred years. Some of them show great imagination, and an equally great ignorance of the facts. In many cases, the answers are based on the writers’ own interpretation or selection of the facts. [Ed. Note: In later chapters Murph explores the techniques vy which many historians and authors attempted to resolve the questions concerning Richard III and his reign, and their underlying motivations.]


About the Author:
Roxane C. Murph is immediate past chairman of the American Branch of the Richard III Society. She is also the author of The Wars of the Roses in Fiction (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995) and the editor of Richard and Anne: A Play in Two Acts by Maxwell Anderson (Jefferson NC and London: McFarland Publishing, 1995).


[1] Croyland Chronicle, p. 483.

[2] Ibid., p. 484.

[3] Sir Thomas More, The History of King Richard III, in The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, ed. by Richard S. Sylvester, vol. II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), p. 13.

[4] Mancini, The Usurpation of Richard III, pp. 71, 73.

[5] Croyland Chronicle, p. 485.

[6] Mancini, The Usurpation of Richard III, p. 73.

[7] Kendall, Richard III, p. 73.

[8] Ibid., p. 195.

[9] Croyland Chronicle, p. 486.

[10] Kendall, Richard III, p. 196.

[11] Ibid., pp. 197- 198.

[12] Ibid., p. 200.

[13] Ibid., p. 201.

[14] Mancini, The Usurpation of Richard III, p. 73.

[15] Kendall, Richard III, p. 203.

[16] Croyland Chronicle, p. 486.

[17] Ibid., p. 487.

[18] Kendall, Richard III, p. 212.

[19] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 486- 487.

[20] More, History of King Richard III, p. 21.

[21] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 487- 488.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kendall, Richard III, p. 235.

[24] Ibid., pp. 223-224.

[25] This is Kendall’s analysis of Buckingham’s influence and position during the Protectorship. See ibid., pp. 227-228.

[26] Kendall, Richard III, p. 243.

[27] York Records as quoted by Kendall, Richard III, p. 245.

[28] Croyland Chronicle, p. 488.

[29] Kendall, Richard III, p. 449.

[30] Ibid., p. 250.

[31] Croyland Chronicle. p. 489.

[32] Ibid., pp. 488-489.

[33] Ibid., p. 489.

[34] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 259-260. See also Gairdner, Richard III, pp. 91-92, and Sharon Turner, The History of England During the Middle Ages, vol. III (3rd ed., London: Longman, Rees, et al., 1830), pp. 326-327.

[35] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 263- 264.

[36] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 489- 490.

[37] Kendall, Richard III, p. 302.

[38] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 490- 491.

[39] Kendall, Richard III, p. 320.

[40] Croyland Chronicle, p. 491.

[41] Kendall, Richard III, p. 324.

[42] Polydore Vergil, English History, ed. by Sir Henry Ellis (London: Camden Society, 1844), p. 199.

[43] Ibid., p. 200.

[44] Croyland Chronicle, p. 492.

[45] Ibid., p. 495.

[46] Vergil, English History, p. 204.

[47] Croyland Chronicle, p. 495.

[48] Kendall, Richard III, p. 343.

[49] Croyland Chronicle, p. 496.

[50] Vergil, English History, pp. 210, 214.

[51] Croyland Chronicle, p. 496.

[52] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 349- 350.

[53] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 499- 500.

[54] Ibid., p. 497.

[55] Ibid., p. 501.

[56] Vergil, English History, p. 216.

[57] William Hutton, The Battle of Bosworth Field, ed. and with additions by J. Nichols (2nd ed., London: Nichols, Son, and Bentley, 1813), pp. 25-27.

[58] Ibid., pp. 83-84.

[59] Vergil, English History, p. 217.

[60] Croyland Chronicle, pp. 501- 502.

[61] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 420- 421.

[62] Vergil, English History, pp. 222- 223.

[63] Kendall, Richard III, p. 427. See.also Albert Makinson, “The Road to Bosworth Field,” History Today, vol. 13, no. 4 (April 1963), in which the author discusses the possibility that the mechanics of the battle, and Northumberland’s position in the rear, made it impossible for him to come to Richard’s aid in time (p. 247). The fact that Northumberland submitted quickly to Henry, however, suggests both the possibility of treachery and that the outcome of the battle did not displease Northumberland (p. 249).

[64] Croyland Chronicle, p. 503.

[65] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 433- 434.

[66] Ibid., p. 434.

[67] Ibid., pp. 435-436. Hutton in Bosworth Field gives as the figures: Henry, more than 7000; Lord Stanley, 5000; Sir William Stanley, 3000; and Richard, 12,000 (p. 75).

[68] Hutton, Bosworth Field, pp. 107- 108.

[69] Kendall, Richard III, pp. 439- 440.

[70] Hutton, Bosworth Field, p. 111.

[71] Vergil, English History, p. 224.

[72] Croyland Chronicle, p. 504.

[73] Kendall, Richard III, p. 553.