Can you imagine it, I'm the last Plantagenet, Beaten by Henry in the Wars of the Roses The Tudor dynasty Didn't care that much for me, Now I'm painted as a baddie, that's why, one supposes.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1452 - 1485), crowned King Richard III
in 1483, was the sixth son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and brother of King Edward IV of England, who had seized the throne from the reigning Lancastrian king, Henry VI. (The complicated relationships of the various branches of The House of Plantagenet
were the principal cause of the "Wars of the Roses
", in which Richard distinguished himself.) On Edward's death, he seized the throne from Edward's son (called Edward V, though he was never actually crowned), declaring him and his younger brother Richard of York bastards. (Traditionally, Richard had his nephews murdered in the Tower of London; this has been much disputed since at least late Tudor times.) A rebellion led by Henry Tudor
, Earl of Richmond, arose, and Richard was killed fighting for his kingdom at Bosworth Field.
Richard's traditional reputation was largely formed by Sir Thomas More
's History of king Richard the thirde
, which (possibly based on the reminiscences of John Morton, Bishop of Ely) depicts Gloucester as a hunch-backed, withered-armed
Machiavellian villain. More's account formed the basis for William Shakespeare
's Richard III
, which has probably been the most influential account of Richard's life and character — despite its obvious historical shortcomings — and has indeed tended to color perceptions of the entire Late Mediaeval period
Nevertheless, Richard's rehabilitation
started fairly early. In the reign of James I (i.e
., after the death of the last
of the Tudors
), the antiquarian Sir George Buck
discovered the suppressed Titulus Regius
that set forth the Parliamentary explanation for Richard's assumption of the throne and claimed he had seen a letter (now lost, if it ever existed at all) from Edward V's sister, Elizabeth of York, which established the friendly relations between them, and wrote his History of King Richard III
in an attempt to moderate the king's negative image. Unfortunately, Buck died insane, and his history was published only after his death, by his grandson (1646). Nevertheless, the concept of a Richard slandered by Henry Tudor (considered by most a man of few scruples) gained a strong following, and has influenced historians, either positively or negatively, ever since.
The fate of the Princes was never certainly established. The last sighting of the boys alive seems to have been around July 1483, shortly before Richard's coronation. Stories of their death varied wildly: some said they had been poisoned, others drowned, others stabbed — but the most accepted version was that attested by Thomas More, that the princes had been smothered and buried secretly under a staircase in the Tower. Bones found there in 1674 under a staircase (as More had said, though he also said he had heard that Richard had had them disinterred and buried elsewhere) were declared to be theirs by the then king, Charles II
. The identification is by no means certain; the bones were last examined in 1934, and it was determined at that time that not all of them were even human. Their age, sex, and date of burial have been disputed (though most experts agree they are pre-pubertal); there has even been some speculation
that they're the remains of ceremonial sacrifices from Roman times. The dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey, where the bones are inurned, have refused to allow further testing, as has Queen Elizabeth II, who will not allow DNA analysis of the remains or
of available remains of any known relatives of the Princes.
Popular depictions of Richard since Shakespeare's plays have generally veered back and forth from outright evil (Richard may be considered the patron saint of the Historical Villain Upgrade
) to a revisionist version in which Richard, though appearing a somewhat cynical Deadpan Snarker
, is nevertheless a fundamentally decent human being — often the only decent human being in what is otherwise a Deadly Decadent Court
He is often portrayed as a creepy old man even though he died aged only 32. He was also a Warrior Prince
and the best warrior in England, second only to his brother Edward.
To everyone's surprise, Richard's remains were unearthed from a carpark in 2012
and, using DNA from two descendants of his sister, identified as his in 2013. Whether the popular view of this divisive king will change (and if so, how) is anyone's guess at this point. The remains showed signs of scoliosis (a curved spine) - which could have given him uneven shoulders but certainly not a hunchback - but there were no signs of the other deformities claimed by Tudor propagandists. It has also been claimed his preferred weapon in battle was a mace, which can be quite heavy, and thus would have enlarged the muscles of his fighting arm significantly. This oversized extremity may have formed the basis of the hunchback legend.
It was also found that he did indeed go down fighting, his body showing that he suffered over a dozen injuries, three of which would have been fatal fairly quickly. Of those three injuries, one could have only been inflicted after death. This was the blow to his pelvis, which would have been armored at the time of his death. The other two; a blow from a sword, and a a halberd-type weapon, both to the skull, were more likely the fatal wounds.
Not to be confused with the current Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester
, Queen Elizabeth II's first cousin, who is (so far as we know
) not planning to usurp the throne. He is, however, a patron of the Richard III Society UK.
Richard III provides examples of the following tropes:
- Archenemy: He hated the Woodvilles and they hated him.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: One of the facts that has never been disputed is Richard's battle prowess.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: His joint coronation with his wife Anne Neville, which was the best-attended coronation in years.
- Badass: Like his big brother Edward, he was a dedicated asskicker.
- Badass Longrobe: Richard's surcoat which he wore over his armor during battle.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Richard probably didn't cry out for a horse right before dying, as reported by Shakespeare. (We think.)
- Cavalry Betrayal: Lord Stanley and Northumberland to Richard at the disastrous Battle of Bosworth Field.
- Cavalry Officer: Richard both before and after his coronation. This makes sense, because Richard's scoliosis infringed on his breathing, making him more easily fatigued, which would have been remedied on horseback.
- The Good Chancellor/Evil Chancellor: During his brief stint as Lord Protector. Which one he was is up for debate.
- Clear My Name: The whole point of the Richard III Society.
- Cool Helmet: Richard apparently wore his crown outside of his helmet.
- Custom Uniform: Due to his scoliosis, Richard's armor would have had to have been custom-built.
- Decisive Battle: Barnet and Tewkesbury, which earned Richard his reputation as a military commander and put his brother Edward IV on the throne of England.
- Defiant to the End: Per Polydore Vergil: "He died fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies."
- Diabolus Ex Machina: Richard lost his son, his wife, and his own life inside of a year after becoming king.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Despite being very much a Handicapped Badass, Richard still goes down surrounded by his enemies.
- Even better: he came within a few feet of Henry Tudor during his cavalry charge and actually killed his standard bearer as well as unhorsing a 6'2" bodyguard of Henry's. Did we mention that Richard's height could not have exceeded 5'8"?
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Getting part of your skull sliced off with a halberd sure counts.
- Final Battle: Bosworth, again.
- Frontline General: As King of England, Richard definitely qualifies at Bosworth.
- Not to mention Barnet, Tewkesbury, and his campaigns in Scotland.
- Full Boar Action: His personal heraldic device was a white boar.
- The Good King: Definitely seen as such by his contemporaries, thanks to his legal reforms for the benefit of the English peasantry.
- In fact, upon hearing of his death at Bosworth, the Aldermen of York wrote in the city records: "On this day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of the city."
- Handicapped Badass: Up to Eleven: In a time when painkillers did not exist, Richard had a severe case of scoliosis coupled with osteoarthritis that would have caused massive pain and, as shown in the documentary Resurrecting Richard III, restriction of lung capacity due to the twisting of the ribcage, which would have made him more easily fatigued. Still an epic-level Badass? Hell yes.
- Happily Married: With his Victorious Childhood Friend Anne Neville. Uniquely for the period, it was a love match that didn't cause Love Ruins the Realm.
- Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Richard's aforementioned surcoat, as well as the crown he wore outside of his helmet and clearly visible.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: The discovery of his body in 2012 makes it quite clear that the Shakespearean limp, withered arm, and hunchback (distinct from scoliosis) were fictional.
- History Marches On: The discovery of his remains under a car park in Leicester.
- Hope Spot: When Richard comes close to killing Henry Tudor at Bosworth. It doesn't last very long.
- In the Back: Both of the lethal injuries are to the back of the skull, and analysis has shown that they could only have been inflicted if Richard had been forced to his knees at the time.
- Invulnerable Horses: Averted: One of the main contributors to Richard's death was the fact that his horse was caught in a mire, leaving him open to being Zerg Rushed by Stanley's soldiers.
- Killed Off for Real: This is the usual result when you have part of your skull sliced off by a halberd.
- One-Man Army: At Bosworth, he personally scattered many of Henry Tudor's bodyguards, killed several of his best knights, and struck down Tudor's banner. It took a Zerg Rush by Stanley's troops to actually bring him down.
- Straight for the Commander: Came within inches of personally killing Henry Tudor.
- The Stoic: He was apparently a very tightly-wound man, and was described as being of unimpeachable moral character when he was a duke. He was less of a good time than Edward, but shared none of his vices.
- War Hawk: This is kind of a running theme for the House of York. Richard was very much in favor of Edward's 1475 campaign in France and was disappointed when it ended with the King of France bribing Edward to leave.
Works associated with Richard of Gloucester:
- Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is probably the 20th century work that re-started the revisionist view of Richard. It involves her long-time detective hero Alan Grant bored in the hospital and piecing through the evidence in search of the "historical" Richard.
- Richard of Gloucester is an ambivalent figure in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Black Arrow (1888), which has been adapted for televison and film several times, notably in 1911, 1948, and 1985.
- William Shakespeare's Henry VI (Parts II and III) and Richard III. That last one is such a negative portrayal of the King that his name has basically become synonymous with villainy.
- Tower of London, a 1939 Universal horror film starring Basil Rathbone as Richard, and its 1962 remake, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.
- Notable in that Price played Clarence in the Rathbone version.
- The Doctor Who audio play "The Kingmaker" featured a ruthless, but fundamentally decent Richard III who sounded suspiciously like Christopher Eccleston.
- ...which may be a bit of Fridge Brilliance: Richard throughout his reign was associated with Northern England, which was, indeed, more detrimental to his popularity in South England than his (alleged) crimes.
- Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour is a Door Stopper epic detailing the Wars of the Roses, which focuses on a very sympathetic Richard.
- Ripped off in Anne Easter Smith's A Rose For The Crown, which is by no means bad but is definitely inferior to the above in every way that counts.
- Rosemary Hawley Jarman's We Speak No Treason is a long romance novel about Richard of Gloucester and the woman who loves him for all time.
- The noted American playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote a little-known play called Richard and Anne. In it, the ghost of Richard III interrupts a production of Richard III in order to angst about his everlasting love for his wife Anne. And Henry of Richmond shows up as a vulgar music tutor.
- John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting has a pretty sympathetic Richard III...in an Alternate History setting with Werewolves and vampires.
- A short story by C. J. Cherryh has a young woman who's been sentenced to the Tower of London meet several of the ghosts haunting it — including the two little princes. Edward V tells her that Richard was believed to have murdered them, but adds, "But he didn't, you know."
- "Party Time with Richard III", an early Hark! A Vagrant comic.
- In the first Blackadder series, Richard III (played by Peter Cook) was actually a pretty good ruler who reigned for a long time (long enough for his nephew and heir, Richard, Duke of York to grow up and have fully grown children of his own) and was accidentally beheaded by his great-nephew Edmund during the Battle of Bosworth Field when he was mistaken for a horse thief. Most of his reign (and all of Richard IV's) were later Retconned by Henry Tudor to have never happened.
- Horrible Histories gives Richard a song about how he's a nice guy who was unfairly vilified by Thomas More and William Shakespeare.
- "The Ballad of Richard III" by Gwydion Penderwenn which takes a pro-Richard stance.
- In the DC Comics miniseries Knight and Squire, Ricardian researchers create a clone of Richard, which somehow has all the original's memories. But Richard really is a villainnote and is soon joined by other wicked kings. Together, they attempt to take over England through the power of... Twitter.
- Alexander Tagere from the Arcia Chronicles is a Fantasy Counterpart of Richard, portrayed in a very sympathetic light. His life up to the battle of the not-Bosworth Field is pretty much a word-for-word retelling of Richard's biography, transplanted into the High Fantasy setting of the series. That the author is an active Ricardian probably explains it.
- Richard III in the 21st Century, a sci-fi duology in which a research team rescues Richard at his moment of death and brings him to the year 2004, where he must learn to adapt to a very different world than the one he left behind.
- In TV series The White Queen, which is based on Philippa Gregory's Cousins War series, Richard is portrayed as a loyal supporter to his brother Edward IV.
- In the Anno Dracula series, Richard is the villain of "Vampire Romance", and more of a monster than in Shakespeare.
- George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is an Epic Fantasy that is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses and is filled with echoes of "The Princes in the Tower" and several characters - Stannis Baratheon, Ned Stark, Theon Greyjoy - are loosely patterned or direct expies of the historical Richard, with the fan favorite Tyrion Lannister, a deformed Deadpan Snarker dwarf, matching the rhetorical splendor of Shakespeare's Richard III.