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Richard Iii And His Bad Reputation English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4113 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Richard III has the bad reputation of being a sinister hunchbacked villain, who was set out for his own gain, killing anybody who got in the way of his power driven craze. This is the main view of early Tudor propagandists and later by playwrights such as William Shakespeare. Although this view had been accepted for many years there has been much debate as to whether Richard deserves this evil reputation. The Richard III Society is dedicated to redeeming Richard III and is keen to point out his high reputation in the North of massive loyalty. The traditional view is that although Richard wasn’t as malicious as Tudor propagandists tried to make out, he was most likely responsible for the removal of his two nephews from the royal line.

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The context in which surrounded Richard gives insight as to the reputation Richard deserves, by comparing his actions to previous successors. The power struggle between the Lancastrians and York’s started in 1399 after Henry II was killed by Henry Bolingbroke [1] and left no heirs to the throne. Although Henry V was a capable king and was successful in holding most of France, it was when Henry VI became king when the problems between the families occurred. In 1453 Henry suffered from schizophrenia so Richard of York was declared Protector of the Realm, using his position to arrest Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. [2] 1455 saw the 1st Battle of Albans, arguably the start of the Wars of the Roses, leading Richard of York to assert his claims to the throne. The Duke and his eldest son Edmond were both killed leaving Edward, York’s second eldest son, to secure a victory at Mortimer’s cross and assume the throne as Edward IV. Although at this time Richard wasn’t old enough to have a reputation of his own, this is a vital step in his life which determined his future actions.

At the age of 9, after Edward became King of England, Richard was given the title Duke of Gloucester. Although this label didn’t give any power to the adolescent Duke, it contributes to Richard’s reputation of being the loyal brother of the King. Evidence of this trustworthy status is that while growing up George, Duke of Clarence, became increasingly annoyed at Edward IV as the King gave the more powerful land to their youngest brother. Clarence demanded the most influential land to be taken away from Richard and to be given to him. [3] Clarence’s demanding behaviour, compared to that of Richard’s quiet acceptance of the King’s decisions, shows the beginnings of Richard’s growing allegiance towards his older brother. The land was juggled from being under his control to being given to those the King believed would be beneficial to have on side. As a result of his jealousy Clarence gained Richmond. Pembroke was put under the control of William, Lord Herbert, and by 1464 Richard had lost all the De Vere estates after they had been restored to John, the 13th Earl of Oxford. Thus showing how Richard was to be seen as exceptionally loyal and trustworthy towards his brother, a complete contrast ‘where Clarence was to prove scheming, ambitious and disloyal’ [4] .

Edward IV was forced into exile in 1470 after he quarrelled with his principle supporter, Richard Neville the Earl of Warwick; also know as the powerful ‘Kingmaker’. One of the few faithful supporters who joined Edward was Richard. Clarence however joined forces with Warwick against his brothers, most likely wanting to become the King himself. After Warwick restored Henry VI to the throne Clarence rejoined his brothers, contrasting the two characteristics of Richard and Clarence, showing that at this time Richard did deserve his reputation of being a loyal brother. This is proved further as ‘in both battles the teenage Richard of Gloucester commanded the vanguard and fought bravely. Edward rewarded Richard’s loyalty by making him effectively viceroy of the north.’ [5] Giving Richard the reputation of being a brave trustworthy warrior, who was willing to stand by his fellow brother and king. ‘Richard was entrusted with right wing of the royal host at the Battle of Barnet, and within three weeks he again led the vanguard at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In both engagements, Richard acquitted himself well.’ [6] Showing Richard was a skilful warrior and that at this time Richard deserved the reputation of being a loyal trustworthy brother.

There is much speculation over how Richard felt after Edward IV found out about the full extent of Clarence’s involvement in the 1470’s rising. There is debate as to whether Richard felt his growing loyalty towards both his brothers and how he felt over George’s end. Mancini reports he was so overcome with grief that he could not hide it. Whereas More, while admitting that in public Richard opposed Clarence’s killing, is not so sure about the genuine emotion Richard experienced. [7] The traditional view of Clarence’s death is that he was executed by drowning in a barrel of malmsey; this could be true as it is first mentioned by Dominic Mancini in 1483. [8] After Richard’s death the Tudor propagandists used Clarence’s death as a method to gain support for Henry Tudor. “None of the sources before More doubt that Edward IV was solely responsible for the death of Clarence, even if they were in some doubt as to why he was executed. More hints that Richard of Gloucester may have encouraged Edward to execute his brother, but [More] goes no further.” [9] This helped to destroy Richard’s reputation of loyalty and turn it into one of an evil, spiteful king who opposed anyone who was in the way, including his own family. As More only hinted to the possible involvement Richard had in his brother’s death and sources before this don’t state any involvement, Richard doesn’t deserve the reputation to the degree the Tudors gave him of being an evil tyrant. There is clear evidence that Richard III had not killed his brother personally, in fact it isn’t possible to know if he agreed with the death sentence.

Richard III was the only Northern king of medieval England; it was rare for the north to be on the same side as the crown. However, it is mainly due to the north that he had enough support to become king in the first place. Richard initialised a ‘power-base that his northern retainers represented.’ [10] This reputation of being “Lord of the North” began when he came of age, the maturity where he was more useful to his elder brother, King Edward IV. To achieve this high reputation after coming back from exile in 1471, at aged 19, Richard filled the gap which had been created in the north due to Earl Warwick’s defeat. Leaving Richard to be appointed his successor, thus giving Richard Duke of Gloucester the responsibility of the defence of Carlisle and the Cumbrian borders. In order to do this effectively the king also gave him the earl’s northern lands. Effectively starting Richard’s assent to having a powerful reputation in the north, the build-up of Richards command was rapid, he quickly became keeper of the northern forests, chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster in northern England, constable of Bewcastle, justice of the peace in all northern counties, in 1482 lieutenant of the north and commander-in-chief against the Scots and in 1483 hereditary warden of the West March. Showing Richard was a capable leader and that he worked hard to gain the confidence of those around him. Enabling him to be entrusted with the power of the titles he acquired and the authority he was given. It’s clear that at this time Richard deserved the reputation of a brave warrior, even his enemies had to agree that he was a skilful and courageous fighter. This is shown where “More readily admits that Richard was brave and that he never lost a battle through lack of courage.” [11] 

In 1472 Richard married Anne Neville. Again there was rivalry between Richard of Gloucester and George of Clarence, as they both aimed to gain land the two Neville wives were to inherit. The brothers fought, leading to Richard acquiring all Warwick’s vast estates north of Trent. This is a contrast to Richard’s earlier loyalty towards Edward IV. During his time in the north and securing England from the threat of the Scottish in 1481-1483, Richard created around himself a closely knit devoted circle of northern knights and gentlemen, this was known as his ‘Northern affinity’. Dominic Mancini wrote in 1483: ‘He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and his generalship.’ [12] Although this defends Richard’s general loyalty towards those surrounding him, Richard was willing to fight with his brother to achieve his goals, showing that Richard wasn’t as loyal to his family members as he was to the king.

Just before Edward IV’s death in 1483, he named Richard of Gloucester Lord Protector and entrusted his sons, Edward and Richard, to his care. This shows that the King himself didn’t believe Richard to be a real threat towards the young princes. However Richard was one of the most powerful men in England, with the king dead and the princes minors, this provided Richard with the opportunity to become king himself. The mystery of the princes in the tower is one of the main causes of debate over Richard’s real reputation.

Richard of Gloucester and the Queen were openly hostile towards each other about the regency needed due to the young age of Edward V. On 29th April, Richard intercepted the royal party before they arrived at London, taking Edward and putting him under his own custody. Although this could have been seen as Richard III looking after his young nephew as his brother had asked, this was later used by Tudor propagandists to damage Richard’s reputation of being the loyal brother and uncle. He arrested the Lords Rivers and Grey, who were both later executed. Richard pressured the queen into letting the young Richard Duke of York visit and stay with his older brother before his crowning. They were both held in the tower of London, a protected place in royal hands, but which later acquired its deathly reputation. Within six weeks Richard had the princes declared illegitimate and had himself named king. Effectively Richard started the downfall of his reputation, after having a priest preach a sermon at Paul’s cross, claiming Edward IV had had an arranged marriage to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville, making all their children illegitimate. Tales at the time had been circulated that Edward’s father was an English archer named Blaybourne. ‘Medieval historian professor Michael Jones has determined through court records that Edward’s legal father, Richard, Duke of York, was over 100 miles away from his mother, Lady Cecily, at the time when Edward must have been conceived.’ [13] If this was in fact true then both Edward and his sons had no legal claim to the throne, this would then have passed to the next best suitor who at this time would have been Richard of Gloucester.

After the two young princes disappeared, rumours began to circulate that they had both been murdered. More’s belief was that “To assure his own security, Richard saw to it that the little princes in the Tower were smothered to death in their sleep” [14] This is supported by Jeffrey Richards who states that although aware of growing rumours Richard III did nothing to dispel them. If the princes were alive Richard III could easily have showed everyone this by taking them out of the tower. As he did nothing to counteract these rumours this helped spread the reputation of Richard being the evil uncle. Another factor which adds to the growing speculation of Richard’s involvement in the princes disappearances is that other rumours which circulated, for example the death of his wife, Richard was quick to have them stopped, however as he didn’t show any evidence of the young boys being alive this added to suspicion of Richards involvement.

A set of bones were found at the Tower of London in 1674, they were buried in Westminster Abbey under orders of King Charles II. The tomb was opened in 1933 and an examination was conducted by Doctor Tanner and Professor Wright, finding they were likely to have been those of the two young boys. [15] This however doesn’t tell us who killed the princes and the reasons behind their deaths. Richard III has long since been the main suspect for being the ‘wicked uncle’, however most of the reports which claim Richard to have been the culprit were Tudor writers, thus leading them to write the worst about Richard to promote Henry VII as being a more just and fair king. However Richard had much to lose by killing his nephews as it would turn the public against him for murdering innocent young children. It could be argued that it wasn’t in Richard’s character to kill his own nephews as he had shown extreme family loyalty and was seen as an ideal knight. Others who might have killed the princes included Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, [16] who would have gained more power if his cousin, Henry Tudor was King. However in 1502 James Tyrell had been arrested for treason against Henry Tudor and whilst under torture he confessed to the murders of the young princes, although this isn’t fact as he didn’t speculate as to how or why he killed them, therefore it isn’t reliable and cannot be taken as the truth. Richard most likely had a hand in the disappearances of the two princes; even if he didn’t kill them personally he would have stood to gain a lot if the two boys were dead.

Discontent of not knowing the princes fate sparked a rebellion, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, launched a revolt against the King. The commons grew angry as they believed Richard murdered the princes, however they were easily taken care of and the Duke was beheaded. He initially intended to be joined by Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond, however he had been exiled to France and wasn’t able to join the rebellion. Henry Tudor was later joined by Elizabeth Woodville, although she never said that her two sons had been killed, her actions showed that she believed them to be dead, otherwise she wouldn’t have joined a potential rival to the crown. Instead of this though the two houses were united through marriage and they started a propaganda campaign to destroy Richard’s reputation.

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In 1484 Richard’s own son, Edward, was confirmed the heir to the throne, however Edward died not long after. Anne Neville, Richard’s Queen, also died around this time, the Richard III foundation states “Richard wept openly at her funeral and shut himself off for three days.” portraying Richard as a more vulnerable character than the harsh, murderous villain of Shakespeare’s play. This only lowered his reputation further as Richard was accused of killing her himself so he could marry his own niece, Elizabeth. However we know this to be a lie as evidence suggests that Anne died of natural causes.

By the 17th century hostility towards Richard had died down, mainly because the Tudors reign had finished and was replaced by the Stewarts, who didn’t give the same interest of trying to portray Richard as an evil leader. William Cornwallis defended Richard’s reputation in 1617 in the Essayes of Certain Paradoxes by publishing an anonymous defence thought to have been written in the early sixteenth century as a response to More’s history. [17] 

Sir Thomas More’s picture of Richard was that he was a man ‘little of stature, ill featured of limbs, crook backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favored of visage . . . he was malicious, wrathful, envious and, from before his birth, ever forward.’ [18] This shows how Richard’s reputation had been manipulated by the Tudor’s influential propaganda, helping Henry Tudor be more accepted as the king, appearing less tyrannical than Richard III. More had grown up as a sworn enemy of Richard III being 7 in 1485, his view of Richard are that which he had been taught. Even if Richard wasn’t as villainous as he has been made out, he would always have been portrayed in the worst possible way. This had happened to many previous kings as it helped gain support for the new monarch, especially if they had fought their way onto the crown. Hall had also described Richard as ‘small and little of stature, so was he of body greatly deformed, the one shoulder higher than the other, his face small, but his countenance was cruel, and such that a man at the first aspect would judge it to savour and smell of malice, fraud and deceit . . .’ [19] this again is just a repeat of More’s words. Shakespeare himself had given Richard III the character of being sick and twisted, giving him a more complex and manipulative personality who was able to feel some form of human remorse for the murders he had committed throughout the play. However “the earlier portraits, such as that belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, which although not painted in his lifetime are based on originals that could have been done from life, show no sign of deformity” [20] , showing more propaganda at the start of the Tudor reign to gain acceptance. Richard, while King, showed himself to be generous and loyal, helping set up a council in the north which stayed in place years still after his death until 1641. He ruled with detailed concern and efficiency. [21] 

Richard III doesn’t deserve the reputation of being a tyrannous, power hungry man to the extent portrayed by Tudor writers. Up until 1583 Richard proved himself to be a loyal, trustworthy supporter of the king, as shown through his actions, defending the northern border and helping Edward IV reclaim the throne in 1571. However after the death of his brother, Richard’s reputation does deserve to be tarnished, just not to the extent of More and Hall’s views. Many of the murders Richard was accused of committing have evidence to prove he wasn’t the cause, including the death of the Prince of Wales and the death of his wife. However after the death of Edward, Richard seized the opportunity to take power, spreading claims of Edward’s illegitimacy and most likely responsible for the disappearance of the two princes.

Source evaluation

I started by reading Charles Ross’s ‘Richard III’. Initially I believed this was a heavy book to read, with much content and so at first I found it extremely hard to pick out the relevant pieces of information. As I got further into the book, however, I found that I became more interested in Richard III and his actions. This is an important and fairly reliable source, it helped to distinguish much debate and shows how it has been exaggerated over the years. However at the end of this tome I found that Charles Ross had been too sympathetic towards Richard’s actions, defending his loyal reputation by using excuses of Richard’s past and horror filled childhood.

I found the article ‘The princes in the tower’ by David Ross to be an extremely valuable source when analysing the mystery created when the two young princes disappeared. It was straightforward and easy to understand. I found it useful when looking at who would have the motive to kill the adolescent boys, ranging from Richard III himself to his enemy Henry Tudor. It helped to analyse how the people felt about the sudden disappearances and how this led to the revolt against Richard. Along with the evidence from Charles Ross’ book this article gave evidence of bones which had been found in the tower which added to the mystery and to Richard III’s reputation of being the evil uncle for his own gain.

Another article which I found to be useful is ‘Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the North’ by Michael Hicks. This was a valuable source as it is full of information as to how Richard of Gloucester managed to gain his reputation of being “Lord in the North”. It also effectively showed how Richard’s loyalty to his brother King Edward IV helped him to gain this reputation of being a brave warrior in the north who protected England from invasion from Scotland. This helped me to be able to compare Richard’s earlier reputation to that which he gained nearing the end of his life and after his death.

This respectively leads to the article ‘The Riddle of Richard III’ by Jeffery Richards. This article helped me to compare the reputations I had discovered Richard had gained throughout his lifetime. The article also gave viable source accounts by unrelated people, for example the Italian visitor Dominic Mancini. As he was only a visitor and wasn’t on the side of Richard III or his enemy Henry Tudor. Mancini’s writings are some of the most valuable to look at for the real reputation of Richard III, during the period of his rise to power. This article also tackles the one sided views of the Tudor writers who tried to denounce Richard’s reputation, in order to promote Henry Tudor.

In the end, I have found that the views of the more recent historians are more accurate that those of earlier writers. As their views on Richard III are not affected by the period they living in, they are not trying to depose previous Kings like that of More and Hall.


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