King Richard III

Richard Plantagenet was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. He was the eighth child of Richard, Duke of York and his wife, Cecily Neville. At the time of his birth he was far from the throne in the line of succession and was unlikely to become king.

Portrait of King Richard III

Portrait of King Richard III

Shortly after Richard’s birth, the First Battle of St Albans took place in 1455.  This battle marked the start of the Wars of the Roses conflict between the ruling Lancastrian dynasty of Henry VI and the House of York led by Richard, Duke of York.  After several years of fighting, the Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460.  The Duke’s eldest son, Edward, Earl of March took charge of the Yorkist cause and seized the throne in March 1461, being declared King Edward IV.  His position was confirmed later that month with victory against the Lancastrians in the Battle of Towton.

Shortly after securing the throne, King Edward IV gave Richard the title of Duke of Gloucester.  Richard spent much of his childhood at Middleham Castle, Yorkshire, owned by his cousin the Earl of Warwick.  As Richard grew up he loyally supported his brother and was rewarded with further titles and roles from his brother including admiral, High Sheriff of Cumberland, Governor of the North, Constable of England, Chief Justice of North Wales, Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales, Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral of England.

Richard’s loyalty was not matched by his elder brother, the Duke of Clarence, and the Earl of Warwick who joined the Lancastrian cause and briefly returned Henry VI to power between 1470 and 1471.  With Richard’s support, Edward IV regained the throne after the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury.  Warwick and Henry VI’s heir were killed in the battles and Henry VI was subsequently murdered in the Tower of London.  In 1472 Richard was married to Ann Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick and gained control of substantial estates formerly owned by Warwick.

The Duke of Clarence continued to have a difficult relationship with Edward IV and after challenging the King’s powers he was finally arrested and found guilty of treason.  Uncertainty surrounds the exact means of Clarence’s execution in 1478 and theories range from a private execution to him being drowned in a butt of wine.  Theories also suggest that Richard played some role in his brother’s death.

On 9 April 1483 Edward IV died and his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, became King Edward V.  At the age of only 12 he was too younger to rule and a protector (regent) was required.  The late King’s will had nominated Richard as Lord Protector, but the Edward V’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, resisted this appointment.  After a few months of factional manoeuvring that resulted in arrests and executions of Elizabeth’s supporters, Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, found themselves in the care of Richard in the Tower of London.  On 22 June 1483 a sermon was preached declaring that Edward V and his brother were illegitimate and that Richard should be king.  A few days later on 26 June, Richard was declared King Richard III and he was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 6 July.

The fate of Edward V and his brother is unclear. Again, theories surround Richard’s involvement in their demise.  Were they murdered in the Tower on the orders of Richard III or did they meet their end in some other way, possibly at the hands of Henry VII?

 

The Battle of Bosworth

Within weeks of Richard III securing the throne, rebellion broke out led by a former ally, the Duke of Buckingham.  The rebellion aimed to put Edward V back on the throne, but rumours that Edward and his brother were dead meant that the goal changed to making Henry Tudor king.  At the same time as the rebellion, a small force under the command of Henry Tudor sailed from Brittany with the intention of landing near Plymouth.  Henry’s forces never landed and Buckingham’s scheme was stopped quickly by Richard’s forces.  Buckingham was convicted of treason and executed on 2 November 1483.

After the rebellion, Henry Tudor became the focus for the Lancastrian cause.  He declared on Christmas Day 1483 that if he became king he would marry Elizabeth, the sister of Edward V.  In 1485 Henry secured the support of the French regent who provided troops to enable an invasion of England.

On 7 August Henry landed with his forces at Milford Haven and quickly gained support from people in the area.  Richard was at Nottingham when news came of Henry’s landing.  Richard gathered his troops and moved to engage the invading force.  Henry progressed through Wales, Shrewsbury and on to Sutton Cheney, near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire.

On the 21 August the two forces moved into position and camped overnight.  Richard’s forces of around 8,000 men outnumbered Henry’s army, estimated to be around 5,000 in number.  Richard rested before the battle at the Blue Boar Inn in Leicester in a bed brought from Nottingham Castle.  Richard rode out from Leicester through the Newarke Gateway and across the Bow Bridge to head for the battlefield.

Richard arrived at the battlefield to see his forces lined up against Henry Tudor’s army.  As the battle commenced between the two sides a third army under the command of Lord Stanley positioned itself to the side of the battlefield.  At first Stanley remained in position, apparently uncommitted to supporting Richard or Henry, and with reasons to support either of the sides.  Eventually Stanley decided to support his step-nephew, Henry Tudor, and his forces joined in with Henry’s army.

Amidst the scene of the battle, Richard III was slain and Henry Tudor, in victory, was proclaimed Henry VII.  Richard’s body was stripped and returned to Leicester on the back of a horse.  After this public display of the defeated king, the body was taken to be buried in the church of the Grey Friars in Leicester.  Legend suggests that while in Leicester before the battle, Richard was told that ‘where his spur should strike a stone that is where his head would also strike’.  According to the stories of the time, when leaving Leicester, Richard’s spur hit the Bow Bridge and on the return of his body his head stuck the same Bow Bridge.

Sometime after the battle it was recorded that Henry VII paid £50 for an alabaster tomb to be placed over Richard’s grave.  Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle, the only other being Harold at the Battle of Hastings.


On March 26th 2015 King Richard III was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral after 5 days of commemoration events and activities around the City of Leicester. The Cathedral is open to the public and King Richard III's tomb is viewable during their opening hours.

Visit the Cathedral website to find out more.