Friday, 6 June 2014

5 Things You Didn't Know About Richard III

Richard probably wasn't as villainous as
his successors wanted us to
believe - fancy that!
A fortnight ago, it was announced that King Richard III's remains will definitely stay in Leicester. I won't get into whether or not he should have been reinterred in York, but, suffice to say, I don't think the last Plantagenet king holds particularly fond memories of Leicestershire.

In any event, Leicester now looks forward (sometime in spring of 2015), to reburying Richard III in a slightly more dignified place than that in which he was found!

I've already written a few pieces on Shakespeare's representation of King Richard, but his recent mention in the news got me thinking about the sides of Richard that most of us aren't familiar with.

So, here are five things about Richard III that might surprise you.

1. Richard III was only eighteen years of age when he was placed in command of troops at Tewkesbury

Even if we consider that average life expectancy was much shorter then than it is now, eighteen is young to be in charge of an army. Nevertheless, in one of the major battles of the Wars of The Roses, the then titled Duke of Gloucester was commanding men who were outnumbered 3,500 to 6,000. Richard's performance at Tewkesbury secured his reputation as not just a brave young man, but also an effective and talented military leader.

By the time of Bosworth, Richard had already got plenty of experience
on the battlefield

2. Legal Aid was introduced by King Richard III

The white boar of Richard III
Although Henry VII wanted us to believe that Richard was some terrible dictator, he was, in fact, not a completely ruthless monarch. 

Responsible for several overhauls to the English legal system, Richard III created the Court of Requests, which, for the first time, enabled ordinary (penniless), folk to have their grievances heard in a court of law.

3. Jane Austen was a Ricardian

Pride and Plantagenets: Jane Austen
thought history had done Richard III wrong
There have been several supporters of Richard III throughout history; men and women who know the last Plantagenet king was 'done wrong' by his Tudor successors. One of these people was Jane Austen, who, at the age of just sixteen, wrote The History of England From the Reign of Henry IV to The Death of Charles I - nobody likes a show-off, Jane!

In the book she has this to say about Richard, "The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man...

"Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a Villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it."

4. The city of York did not share the Tudor/Shakespearean view of King Richard III

Should Richard III have been reinterred
at York Minster?
Yet more evidence that Richard was nowhere near as bad as he's been painted in Tudor propaganda can be found in the records of his death in York. 

"King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the ducof Northfolk and many othere that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilies of this north parties, was pitiously siane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie, the names of whome foloweth hereafter. [sic]"

Even if we concede that every crazy, dictatorial ruler throughout history has had his sycophantic hangers-on, it still sounds as though Richard III was esteemed much more highly than some would have us believe.

5. Richard's brother, George, was drowned in a butt of wine - maybe

How was the Duke of Clarence killed?
The truth is we don't know exactly how the Duke of Clarence (Richard's brother, George) died. 

We do know that unlike Shakespeare's version of events, Clarence really was plotting against his brother, and was subsequently sentenced to death. We also know that contrary to the fashion of the day, he wasn't beheaded.

Legend has it that he was placed in a butt of Malmsey wine, which, fittingly, was his favourite beverage, and drowned. Well, if you've gotta go! 

What is possibly more interest than the method of George's death is the fact that, far from poisoning Edward with lies that would ensure his execution, Richard actually opposed George's arrest. 
If you'd like to know more about Richard III, take a look at 'The Psychology of Richard III'


  1. Lovely blog post. As much as I love the dramatic characteristics in Richard III play by WS, I never support the idea of his being a bad king at all.

    The play is beautiful, still.

  2. Hi there, Lemon Tree.

    Thanks for the comment. I agree, the play is great (among my favourites), but we can't assume it's an accurate portrayal of Richard. Shakespeare was obviously influenced by the Tudor version of events, AND he was trying to create the best dramatic spectacle - which means it's not so concerned with facts. In the same way, modern films that are 'based on a true story' twist things significantly for dramatic purposes. Different medium, but, other than that, things haven't changed much over the centuries!

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment.