Friday, 19 July 2013

Richard III: The Tyrant King?

Researched and edited by Joshua S. Baker-Cox and Henry H. Partridge.
For the full names of authors mentioned, and their books used, see the bibliography.

Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter
of Worcester Cathedral (UK).
This depiction of Richard is taken from Raymond's History of England

Richard III is frequently portrayed as this vilified, even dehumanized manner. However, is this really the case?
A great deal of our modern vision of this last Plantagenet king is due to anti-Plantagenet propaganda under the Tudor monarchs. Rous, a historian contemporaneous with both Richard III and Henry VII is a prime example of this Tudor-propagated image, having written of Richard that he was ‘a great man’ during his reign, and then later adopting the Tudor view of the corrupted monster who ‘disgraced’ the English throne. Another fine instance of Tudor propaganda that has affected the popular view of Richard III was the tampering of both contemporary and Tudor-era paintings to over exaggerate his physical deformities such as his crooked spine and withered arm. Given the anti-Ricardian bias presented by Shakespeare and historians since the Battle of Bosworth, it is easy to see why this image has crept into popular imagination. But, setting aside historical aspersions on his character and physical appearance, is this truly the real Richard III?
Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).
This depiction, also taken from Raymond, shows Richard III with his 'withered arm'. 

Evidence that supports the Tudor-endorsed view includes Richard’s threat to decapitate Lord Stanley’s son (whom he was given as a hostage) prior to the Battle of Bosworth due to his father’s reluctance to fight loyally for his king outright, and Richard’s only being prevented from this action by the pleas of councillors and the sentiment that he could potentially deal with opposition after the battle, as well as the multiple rebellions, social unrest, and executions of rival nobility like the Duke of Buckingham, beheaded without trial, that marked his reign. Of course, the most notable and infamous decision of Richard’s life is perceived to be his possible involvement in the deaths of his two princely nephews in the Tower. While it is implied in several letters (Raymond and Rapin both make reference to these letters) that Richard may have enquired into the possibility of removing potential threats to his rule such as the princes, this has never been proved for certain and was definitely emphasized by Tudor-era propaganda. Finally, popular opinion was against Richard even in his lifetime, as shown when, after his wife Anne died, he was accused of poisoning her for his own advantage, meaning that his unpopularity was rife even before the over exaggerations of the Tudor era took hold.

Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK). This is a monastic account roll from Worcester Cathedral priory belonging to William Dene, Master of the Chapel, 1483-1484, years 1-2 of Richard III 
However, despite Raymond’s depiction as a ‘tyrant’ and ‘usurper’, the emphasis placed on Richard’s darker qualities by Tudor historians cannot be relied upon for factual evidence. He was greatly loved in the north and particularly by the people of York. His attempts to engage Henry Tudor’s forces before their numbers could grown with additional support shows a strategic brilliance and excellent military command, whilst his laws to protect the poor and uphold the permanence of the law in England show a passion for justice. Much of the propaganda levied against him is unproven, and therefore choosing to go upon this view to construct any decision would not do the last English king true justice. At the end of Rapin’s ‘History of England’ (in the cathedral library) the writer shows a considerably modern approach to historical Ricardianism, stating that these aforementioned points would have perhaps led to a better kingship had he possessed a tighter grip on the throne and on popular opinion. All accounts of Richard’s death in battle agree on the point that he showed ‘uncommon valour’ and courage in the face of opposition, even unto the moment of his last breath. ‘Thus fell Richard of York, king of England, in the thirty-fourth year of his life’.’(Rapin).
Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK). This is a property document between three citizens of Worcester, John Broke, Richard Petur and his wife Alice, on the 28th of January, 1484, the first year of Richard III's reign. This is in the Worcester Cathedral Archives.


Rubin, Miri: The Hollow Crown.
Penguin Books 2006.
ISBN: 13 978-0—140-14825—1.

Raymond, George Frederick: A New, Universal and Impartial History of England, from the earliest authentic records, and most genuine historical evidence, to the summer of the year 1785.

De Thoyras, Rapin: A History of England, written in French, translated into English with additional notes by N. Tindal, N. A. Vicar of Great Walton in Essex. 2nd Edition, Volume I.

Richard III to Henry VII. Correspondences from the one to the other through letters written in Richard’s last year of rule.

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