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Richard III of England

1483-1485

In history, Richard III has been traditionally portrayed as an ignoble villain during his brief reign of England; yet, there is much speculation over events during his influence in England's affairs. This label mainly stems from accusations that he murdered his two nephews who disappeared after they became heirs to the throne. However, many modern historians disagree with this traditional picture. Due to the differing opinions, Richard III is a subject of strong feelings even today.

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Richard Planagenet was born on October 2, 1452 of the House of York. Soon after his birth, the War of the Roses broke out in 1455 between the House of York and the House of Lancaster. When the war ended in 1461, Richard Planagenet's eldest brother, Edward was granted kingship of England. Under Edward IV, Richard was made Duke of Glauchester, and he assisted his brother with maintaining control in England by victoriously commanding soldiers over the Lancastrian rebels. Richard may have also had a hand in the murder of Henry VI on May 21, 1471 under his brother's orders. When Edward IV died on April 9, 1483, Richard was then named the protector of Edward IV's two sons, the eldest being the twelve year old Edward V. In that position, Richard III was able to break the political hold over the government of his nephews' mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family. This occurred when Richard III prodded many of the preachers of London to question the legitimacy of Edward IV's marriage. Eventually, the assembly of estates declared the marriage invalid, thus dissolving the royal succession of the two children and allowing Richard III to be crowned king of England on June 25, 1483.

In August of 1483, Edward IV's two sons disappeared and consequently Richard lost the support of the nobles when he was accused of murdering them. However, during his reign, Richard III attempted to overshadow his tainted reputation by promoting trade abroad and by providing easier channels for poor suitors to obtain justice from the king's council. Nevertheless, noble support was never regained, and eventually Henry Tudor claimed the right to the thrown through a distant Lancastrian line. Then, after killing Richard in a battle at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485, he was crowned King Henry VII. Looking over Richard III's reign, faults in the late medieval governmental structure can be seen when a powerful noble, such as Richard III, was able to temporarily prevent the course of local justice to obtain the crown with relative ease.

In the matter of the disappearance of Richard's two nephews, the blame has traditionally been directed at Richard III, including finger pointing by such prominent figures as Thomas Moore and William Shakespeare. However, many modern historians question the validity of such an accusation after reviewing the evidence. Other possible culprits of the suspected murder are the duke of Buckingham and Henry Tudor. The possibly skewed view of history may have come from the Tudor historians in an effort to justify the acquisition of Tudor reign. Whatever is the case, Richard III will remain a debated and controversial figure for many years to come.


Edited by: Mark H. Duncan
Researched by: Amanda K. McVety
Written by: Rachel J. Parks
November 30, 1997

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