• A London Student

Conflicting Views Of Richard III

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

I was half-way through writing another post when I got a bit distracted and wanted to write this...


Since last summer, a book has been sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read, a book that would rekindle an interest in the messy and tragic days of the Wars of the Roses, particularly involving the controversial Duke of Gloucester. This book: Richard III & the Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir. It is mystery that has always intrigued historians had caught me in its net as well last summer, as I gradually found out more and more. However, I had never got round to reading my new book. Until now. I don't know exactly why I had a sudden urge to read it, but I did, yet before I was even half way through, I stopped (it is a great book though, and I will finish it, but not yet!). Weir's picture of the time was so vivid, and totally unlike the one I'd seen in 'The Sunne in Splendour', it was shocking, as I tried to work out who Richard really was.

My initial view since hearing about the Princes in the Tower as a horrified child was as straight forward 'he did it'. It felt so obvious: a power-hungry uncle, a vulnerable king, and an badly timed death. How could he have not done it? (unless it was a case of what happened to Thomas Becket, where words said in anger led to so much more, but at that point I had no clue who Becket was, so that clearly didn't cross my mind). It had happened before, relatives taking advantage of a minor, and quietly taking the regency to another level (i.e usurping the throne) or in the case of Arthur of Brittany or Edward of Warwick, simply eliminating any other contenders for the throne. It may have felt like an open and shut case, however the darkness of the tale and the horrors inflicted on the two boys always intrigued me, like a violent TV series that you are shocked by but can't seem to stop watching.

It was in the spring of last year that I discovered Philippa Gregory's series on the Cousins War. Initially it was 'Lady of the Rivers' that most impressed me, as it shined a light on a forgotten but very prominent figure in the Wars of the Roses, Jacquetta of Luxembourg (#forgottenfigures), however, on reading the 'White Queen,' I was instead struck with the desperation of a mother, and the fear that circled all parties in 1483. What particularly struck me was the ending, how the ambitions of Margret Beaufort, Henry Stafford and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, all heightened and swirled around until two young boys had disappeared, probably murdered. I did like the ending (spoiler alert to anyone who doesn't know all possible conclusions of the Princes in the Tower) that one boy, Richard, got away, hidden by his mother, and sent to France (I was then very upset when in 'The White Princess', the boy who was believed to be Richard was sent to his death, by Henry VII, as the pretender Perkin Warbeck)

At the end of this series, my conclusion had been that the deaths were ordered by Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, as two less heirs to the throne would've been beneficial to his position: he was of royal blood, and close to the throne. However, I was sure that Margret Beaufort had been involved, with her soaring ambition for her son, it seemed like she was the obvious candidate, just as I had thought that Richard was many years before. Although 'The White Queen' didn't exactly bathe Richard in glory, being told from the perspective of the Woodvilles, I didn't believe that it was Richard who was the guilty party at the end of the book despite evidence, just possibly because before I had read that book, I had read 'The Sunne in Splendour' for the first time. The Sunne in Splendour is an amazing story and a historical masterpiece, showing Richard as a loyal brother (which seems very accurate) and simply a man trying to do the right thing in a country that was falling apart at the death of the strong king. (Note: I didn't actually finish 'The Sunne in Splendour' as I knew that it would be too sad seeing Anne Neville die so young and Richard, who was shown really well, tragically die in the Battle of Bosworth Field).

'The Sunne in Splendour,' was one of the first, full accounts of the Wars of the Roses that I read, and it really struck me, just as 'Here Be Dragons' had when I'd read that. As I mentioned, I didn't actually finish Sharon Penman's masterpiece, but I can imagine that the guilty party was not Richard, and that he was trying to keep the country together at a high-pressure time. The build up towards the end was momentous, as Richard, the hero of the story, tries to do the right thing, and look after the princes until, it changes, they are declared illegitimate and he heroically takes the throne, in their 'best interest' (although why declaring your nephews illegitimate and seizing the throne is in the best interests of either the nephews or the country in beyond me!)

Now to my view, and current conclusion. Richard probably did order the deaths of his nephews, out of his ambition and hatred of Elizabeth Woodville and her family. He had the most to gain from their deaths (although if you are looking at it from that angle, then there could also be a solid case against Margret Beaufort, trying to get rid of two Yorkist heirs, and bringing her own exiled son closer to the throne). I look forward to reading the end of Weir's book, as it will clarify many matters, and reconstructs the events leading to the death of the Princes. Yet there is one thing that I still can't fathom, why did Richard, a loyal, trustworthy brother to Edward change overnight to a tyrant, intent on seizing the throne? Perhaps the only answer to that is that he didn't. He was scared that he would be cut out the regency by the Woodvilles so acted to stop that, first by intercepting the new King's convoy from Ludlow and only then going further to take the throne. Although the Richard in 'The Sunne in Splendour' is one that I want to think of and remember, I know that the truth is likely to be a lot more ugly; it often is, as caring brothers can still murder helpless nephews.

Thank you for reading!

More information on this mystery is yet to come, and perhaps from a more historical perspective.


Sources include as mentioned:

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

Richard III and the Princes in the Tower by Alison Wier

Lady of the Rivers, The White Queen, The Red Queen, The White Princess all by Philippa Gregory

Image is courtesy of Wikipedia