A Brief Biography and Introduction to Richard's Reputation
by Wendy E.A. Moorhen
What follows is a brief factual biography of Richard III which provides links to more in-depth articles and papers on his life, career and reputation.
Fotheringhay Castle by Julian Rowe,
reproduced by kind permission of Peter HammondRichard Plantagenet was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, and his wife, the former Cecily Neville. York, a cousin to the reigning King Henry VI, held senior government positions but was unpopular with the Lancastrian regime. York's disputes led to his early death at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460. His eldest son, Edward, seized the throne of England in March the following year and defeated the Lancastrians at Towton on 29 March.
Middleham Castle ©Geoffrey WheelerThe young king Edward IV now assumed responsibility for the upbringing of his younger siblings who had hitherto experienced an unsettled childhood. The elder son, George, was created duke of Clarence and the younger, Richard, was created duke of Gloucester at the age of eight and entered the household of his cousin, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, to begin his education as a nobleman. This took place primarily at the earl's Yorkshire estates of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton.
Meanwhile, King Edward clandestinely married a Lancastrian widow in 1464 and thus began to alienate Warwick, his most powerful ally, who had favoured a political match with a European princess. Over the next five years the relationship between king and 'over-mighty' earl deteriorated until civil strife was resumed in 1469 and the following year Edward was driven into exile. One of the causes of their dispute was the marriage of Warwick's elder daughter to Clarence without the king's permission.
The Young Duke
The Battle of Barnet © Geoffrey WheelerRichard accompanied Edward to the continent and on their return to England in 1471 the eighteen-year-old duke was given command of the vanguard at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. These battles were resounding Yorkist victories and both Warwick and the Lancastrian heir, Prince Edward of Wales, were killed. The former king, Henry VI, died a few days later in London.
Richard now assumed the responsibilities of his position. He had been admiral of England since 1461 and he was now appointed constable. King Edward granted Richard many of Warwick's forfeited estates and the following year the duke married Warwick's younger daughter Anne, who was the widow of Prince Edward who was killed at Tewkesbury.
The Battle of Tewkesbury © Geoffrey WheelerThe couple took up residence in the north of England, which King Edward effectively entrusted to his brother, and Richard was created Warden of the West Marches of Scotland. Richard took his duties seriously and held the north against any Scottish incursions. In 1476, Duchess Anne gave birth to their only child, who became known as Edward of Middleham.
During the remaining years of his brother's reign, Richard of Gloucester rarely left the north. Two such occasions included the invasion of France in 1475 and attending the parliament of 1478 when their brother Clarence was attainted for treason and privately executed. In the summer of 1482, Richard invaded Scotland at King Edward's behest. He was accompanied by the Scots king's brother, the duke of Albany. Richard and Albany marched as far as Edinburgh before Richard strategically withdrew over the border.
April - July 1483
On 9 April 1483 King Edward died, a few days short of his forty-first birthday. There had been no time to prepare for a transition of power and the heir, another Edward, was twelve years old. Factions were immediately formed, each believing that they had an important role to play in the government of England. There was the queen and her extensive family; the old nobility, represented in the former king's Council, which included the late king's friend and chamberlain, William, Lord Hastings; and his surviving brother, Richard, who was appointed the lord protector.
Ludlow CastleAt the time of his father's death, the new king was at Ludlow under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, Earl Rivers. The queen sent for them to come to London and for the king to be crowned without delay. Lord Hastings possibly sent messengers north to inform Richard of his brother's death and urge that he come immediately to London. Richard was joined on his journey south by the duke of Buckingham, a distant cousin. At Northampton, Richard and his followers met and arrested Earl Rivers. Richard then moved on to Stony Stratford where the king was resting, made three further arrests and escorted his nephew to London.
The queen, on hearing of these events, withdrew to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her family. Edward V arrived in London on 4 May, the day for which his coronation had been planned, and the event was rescheduled for 22 June. Richard and the Council continued with the preparations for the coronation and with the governance of the country, but on 13 June Richard announced that a plot against him had been discovered and accused Lord Hastings of being the instigator. The latter was immediately executed and Archbishop John Rotherham, Bishop John Morton and Thomas, Lord Stanley, were arrested.
On 16 June the young king's brother, Richard, Duke of York left sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and joined his brother in the royal apartments at the Tower. On 22 June Dr Ralph Shaa, brother of the mayor, declared to the citizens of London, that King Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was illegal. This was because of a pre-contract of marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Butler and the clandestine nature of the king's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. The children of the marriage were declared illegitimate, and therefore barred from succession to the throne of England. Within four days Richard was acclaimed king of England.
Richard the King
King Richard III was crowned, together with his wife Anne, on 6 July at Westminster Abbey. Shortly afterwards the couple began a progress around the country which ended in York with the investiture of their son Edward as prince of Wales. In the autumn of 1483, however, King Richard suffered a serious set-back. His former supporter, the duke of Buckingham, became involved in a rebellion, based primarily in the west country and Kent. Although swiftly repressed, the effects were far-reaching and King Richard now began to rely more on his northern supporters, placing them in the offices left vacant by the rebels.
The rebellion had been supported by a scion of the House of Lancaster, the exiled Henry Tudor, a descendant of King Edward III through his son John of Gaunt's legitimised Beaufort family. Tudor had assumed the role of representative of the Lancastrian line and had become the focus for disaffected English nobles and gentry.
On Christmas Day 1483, in Rennes Cathedral, Henry Tudor declared his intention of marrying King Edward IV's eldest daughter, the Lady Elizabeth, when he became king of England. He then spent the next eighteen months planning his invasion.
King Richard meanwhile called his first, and only, parliament in January 1484. The legislation covered three main areas, the ratification of Richard as king, the passing of acts of attainder against the October rebels and the passing of a number of acts designed to reform part of the legal system.
King Richard's reign was overshadowed by the threat of Tudor's invasion and by personal loss. Near the anniversary of the death of his brother, King Edward, Richard's son died and the king and queen shut themselves in their apartments at Nottingham Castle to mourn their loss. Richard's queen died less than a year later on 16 March 1485.
The Death of Richard
Artwork from The Battle of Bosworth by Graham Turner
© Osprey Publishing Ltd www.ospreypublishing.comThe long-awaited invasion came on 7 August 1485 when Tudor landed at Milford Haven in Wales. King Richard mobilised his forces and on 22 August king and invader joined battle at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. Despite Richard's superior army, the battle was lost when the king was slain after Sir William Stanley turned traitor in favour of his step-nephew, Henry Tudor, and led his forces into the battle on Tudor's side. Richard Plantagenet was the last king of England to die on the battlefield.
The victor of Bosworth was to establish his own dynasty but his genealogical claim to the throne was both tenuous and cadet. It may also have been illegal without an act of parliament to amend Henry IV's legitimisation of his Beaufort siblings who were barred, together with their descendants, from inheriting the throne. Tudor wisely decided to claim the throne by right of conquest but was cognizant of the need to take every opportunity of enhancing his own reputation at the expense of his predecessor. Richard's actions and behaviour were the subject of attention and scrutiny and were presented, in the weeks and years after his death, as those of a wicked and unscrupulous tyrant.
Hastings' Windsor Stall Plate
© Geoffrey WheelerDuring his own lifetime, however, Richard's reputation was high, the loyal brother of Edward IV who administered the north of the realm and defended the country against the Scots. The premature death of Edward IV led to a national crisis in which Richard emerged as king. With the benefit of hindsight, historians have generally interpreted the fateful events of 1483 in the light of Richard being a calculating usurper. There are, of course, some contemporary criticisms and rumours about Richard but these are inevitable in view of his high profile. The decisive arrests of Rivers and others thus appear as pre-emptive acts to gain control of Edward V. The fact was that Richard had not been officially informed of his brother's death and that his sister-in-law sought to crown her son with unseemly haste, an act which would have reduced Richard's power to rule the king despite his appointment as Protector. Once crowned, Edward V would have ruled through his Council, the composition and performance of which could be manipulated by the Woodville faction.
Richard's next decisive act was based on the revelation of a plot and the execution of its alleged leader, Hastings. Traditional historians have accused Richard of inventing the plot in order to rid himself of Edward V's staunchest supporter. However, documents are extant which demonstrate that Richard was aware of the conspiracy before taking action, sought to obtain re-enforcements to support his protectorship and conducted a mop-up operation to neutralise other conspirators, all of which suggest that Richard was suppressing a genuine plot. The declaration of the illegality of Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville has been interpreted as a convenient excuse for Richard to overturn his nephew's succession and it was indeed a timely discovery. However, the legality of Richard's actions and of the 'precontract' dispute are still the subjects of academic debate.
Once Richard was crowned and his nephews bastardised, the young princes were no longer an important factor at the Ricardian court. Their 'disappearance', however, led to the greatest controversy surrounding King Richard - did he kill his nephews?
Signature with motto of King Richard.
Redrawn by Piat DesignAccusations of infanticide, however, were not enough for the historians seeking to defame the dead king. The death of Richard's own wife came under suspicion with hints of him murdering her with poison, of murdering her former husband after the battle of Tewkesbury, of murdering King Henry VI, and even of his own brother Clarence, despite his treason being confirmed by the act of attainder passed by King Edward IV's own parliament. By the time the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare penned what was to become one of his most popular and frequently performed plays, The Tragedy of King Richard III, the works of the anonymous Croyland Chronicler, John Rous, Bernard André, Polydore Vergil, Sir Thomas More, Edward Hall, Richard Grafton and Raphael Holinshed had been written. Shakespeare followed their tradition and presented his anti-hero as the murderous, deformed tyrant so well known to theatre, television and cinema audiences.
Within a few years of its first production a backlash against the 'traditionalist' version of King Richard's history was written by Sir George Buck although it remained unpublished for some years. Later in the sixteenth century, Richard's fate as the archetypal villain was sealed when John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough is reputed to have said 'I take my history from Shakespeare' despite the fact that Richard's villainy was so over the top that the character has failed to gain acceptance as a real and identifiable person with many audiences.
The Great Debate, as the study of Richard's reputation became known, truly began in the seventeenth century when Horace Walpole wrote his Historic Doubts and rattled the cages of the traditionalists. That debate is not yet over, with the majority of the British historical academic community still promoting Richard as an infanticide. Some academics have acknowledged that Richard was a talented administrator and that he cannot be held responsible for the deaths of Henry VI and his son, but their overall assessment is still that of an evil and avaricious man. This shift in his reputation has now led to new claims of avarice, in that his motivation for taking the throne is said to be found in his fear of losing the Neville inheritance.
Gaining a re-evaluation of Richard's reputation entails the painstaking task of examining the primary and Tudor sources and assessing his actions, both as duke and king, against the background of his times, his contemporaries, his predecessors and his successors. The art of rhetoric, so beloved of one of Richard's greatest critics, Sir Thomas More, comes into play as the interpretation of his actions, such as his 1484 legislation, which has been described as either 'enlightened' or 'divisive', depends on the writer's orientation. There is no clear evidence that Richard was guilty or innocent of his so-called 'crimes', but historians, whether detractors or sympathisers, must work with the information derived from the sources and endeavour to present a balanced view of this controversial figure.
The most comprehensive study of Richard's posthumous reputation has been carried out by the Society's former chairman, the late Jeremy Potter, and published as Good King Richard?
Reproduced by kind permission
of the Society of Antiquaries.The 'how to …' hand-books, so popular in our own time, which cover a vast array of skills, behaviours, activities, etc. are not new. In the fifteenth century, books abounded advising rulers on what was expected of them, such as 'mirrors' of princes or histories that gave shining examples of how a prince should behave. Richard III owned a number of such books and it appears he accepted the writers' teachings.
In a paper presented by Anne Sutton at the Society's symposium held in 1984 at Jesus College, Cambridge (and subsequently published in Lordship, Loyalty and Law), she puts forward a very strong case that Richard, both as duke and king, followed the principles laid down for a prince and that he can be viewed as 'a perfect prince'. The following is a brief summary of some of those arguments. First, what were the requisite virtues?
From The Declamation of Noblesse '… to be a curious searcer for our weal publyque, merry at home, laborious outward, besy to atteyne science, pyteous of them which has necessyte, namely to my fader, moder & kynne, welbyloued of my neyghbours, true to my frendes, obeysaunt & devoute in thynges relygious'.
In De Regimine Principum by Aegidius Colonna, a pupil of St Thomas Aquinas, Colonna's prince should be prudent, dignified but sympathetic, truthful, energetic, just but tempered with mercy, courageous but not rash, moderate in all things, magnanimous and munificent in his undertakings, a generous but careful rewarder of the deserving, he should love honour, be humble and friendly while commanding respect, have an equal as his wife with whom he shares secrets and above all love the common good and the welfare of the state.
John Gower summed up the virtues as truth, largesse, love of justice, pity, and chastity in marriage.
William Langland in The Vision of Piers Plowman presents 'a compelling image of a harmonious society bound together by law, loyalty and love'. Loyalty was a virtue that Richard embraced enthusiastically and included in his personal motto 'loyalté me lie'.
The theme in all of these works is the personal virtue of the prince. In the middle ages public morality was the extension of private morality. 'The king's will had to be controlled by a desire to serve the good of the community, the "common weal", and by obedience to the rule of natural law'. In the coronation oath the ideals of good rule are reduced to four basic clauses 'maintain the church, administer justice, uphold the laws of England, and defend your subjects' and the oath was translated into English for the first time at King Richard's coronation.
The Investiture by Graham Turner.
Reproduced by kind permission of
the artist. www.studio88.co.ukThrough the medium of sermons the church encouraged the rich to fulfil their obligations and help the poor. Richard's good intentions in this area are well documented. He promoted the court that became the Court of Requests where the poor could present their suits at Westminster. In Glamorgan, where he held considerable land, Richard attempted to reform the administration system within his lordship, and T.B. Pugh commented Richard 'had a genuine concern for the welfare of its inhabitants.'
Of Richard's personal piety a little can be gleaned from his library, which included a bible and his own book of hours. There is also evidence of devotion to the saints and he presented a jewelled calvary containing relics of St Peter to York Minster. As a prince Richard was obliged to make an outward show of piety and he created a number of religious foundations, such as the collegiate church at Middleham.
The education of the clergy was also an interest and in 1477 he made a grant to Queens' College Cambridge to support four priests studying theology. The priests were charged to pray for Richard and his family, and rather poignantly, friends and associates who had died at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. Richard appears to have had a genuine interest in learned clergy and in education.
During his royal progress following his coronation he stayed at Magdalen College, Oxford, and listened to learned disputations. Richard was surrounded by senior clergy whose reputations stood high, such as Bishop Thomas Langton and John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln, was his chancellor.
Joust by Graham Turner.
Reproduced by kind permission of
the artist. www.studio88.co.ukThe chivalric code encompassed the ideals of protecting the weak, fighting for justice, keeping the peace, serving the common weal and rejected evil behaviour. Hand-books and romances, like those for princes, were in circulation, such as De Re Militari, a copy of which Richard commissioned, and Lull's Order of Chivalry dedicated by Caxton to Richard. Preparing for knighthood was part of Richard's education and from a young age he held the chivalric post of constable of England. As constable he had his own court of law which included the overseeing of the heralds, and ordinances for their good behaviour have been attributed to Richard. He obviously had a keen interest in their work, and as king he founded the College of Arms.
A practical demonstration of Richard's military leadership, where he displayed the qualities of discipline and moderation, can be found in the Scottish campaign of 1482, described by Dr Norman MacDougall as a 'competent campaign' Richard was granted money to pay for an army of 20,000 for only four weeks and for 1,700 men for a further two weeks. He succeeded in capturing Berwick, marching to Edinburgh, which he occupied, controlled his army so they did not sack the city and returned to England within the timeframe.
As both a magnate and administrator the law played an important role in Richard's affairs. As king it was to assume the greatest significance. Social harmony was the ultimate goal of the 'perfect prince', and the right and fair regulation of society by a recognition of mutual obligations between the different sections of the community, such 'as rich and poor, buyer and seller, citizen and foreigner, lord and liegeman' was enforced by law. As his brother's representative in the north Richard's ducal council became a source of arbitration and Richard showed concern for peaceful arbitration and judicial solutions.
Westminster HallWhen he left the north and appointed his nephew, the earl of Lincoln, as his successor, the ducal council became the Council of the North and its responsibilities and conduct were the subject of a set of articles. As an administrative institution it survived into the seventeenth century which perhaps bears testament to Richard's skill and foresight as an adminstrator.
Richard's parliament of 1484, apart from attending to the business of the king's title and the October rebellion, passed legislation which led Sir Francis Bacon to describe Richard as 'a good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people'. For example, Richard was concerned with the problem of corrupt and lazy officials and some of the statutes dealt with this problem. Richard's policy throughout his career was to set standards whereby officials were educated and sufficiently wealthy in order for them to be less vulnerable to corruption. At a session in the Star Chamber Richard personally brought to the attention of his justices connivance at altering a court record, the reporter of the session states that Richard was 'perturbed' that such cases should arise.
Middleham by Graham Turner.
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist. www.studio88.co.ukA stable private life was acknowledged as desirable by the mentors of princes and indeed the problems surrounding King Edward's marital arrangements were directly responsible for Richard's elevation to kingship. They provided Richard with a moral claim to the throne. Although little is known about the relationship between Richard and his wife, Anne Neville, their mutual grief at the loss of their son in 1484 and the fact that his two illegitimate children appear to have been begotten before his marriage, perhaps indicate the stability of Richard's own marriage.
Dr Sutton concludes her paper with three contemporary comments on Richard's policy as Duke and as King by Dominic Mancini, Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David's, and Von Poppelau, a German knight, which can be found in Richard by his contemporaries.
by Lynda Pidgeon based on an article by Mary O'Regan
Medieval life was dominated by the Church. The year was shaped by the religious festivals of Easter, Christmas and Saints Days. While daily life was structured around the seven sacraments of baptism, confirmation, mass, penance, ordination, marriage and extreme unction. Until the Reformation in the sixteenth century there had only been the one Church, of which the Pope was Christ's representative on earth and salvation could only be found through the Church.
Canterbury CathedralThe Church ministered to the spiritual and religious needs of the laity, provided hospitals for the sick, hostels for travellers, relief for the poor and education. As well as addressing peoples spiritual and social needs the church also acted as a court dealing with such matters as marriage disputes and witchcraft. Clerics also became involved in politics providing administrators for the state, many of whom held high office in the king's council.
With such wide ranging involvement in the daily lives of people, it can be difficult to assess the extent to which people were genuinely pious or were simply following customary practices which gave them acceptance in their community.
Influences on Richard's Religion
St Brigid of SwedenIt is probable that Richard was influenced by his mother, Cecily, Duchess of York, who was considered one of the most saintly laywomen of her generation. In her later years she is known to have devoted most of her day to religious matters. Cecily was a follower of the devotio moderna, a regime of devotion put forward by Gerard de Groot of Flanders, in which lay practitioners built their lives around worship, prayer, study and contemplation. Their personal devotions focussed on the works of famous mystical writers, such as Mechtild of Hackeborn. She was a thirteenth-century Cistercian nun whose mystical visions were written down in her lifetime as Liber Specialis Gratie, sometimes called 'The Book of Ghostly Grace'.
St Caterine of SiennaCecily owned a copy of this book and was also known to be interested in the lives of St Catherine of Siena and St Brigid of Sweden.
Richard's older sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, was also influenced by their mother's religious interests. Cecily taught her to set aside regular hours for prayer contemplation and reading. When Margaret became duchess of Burgundy she made contact with leading theologians and reformers in the Low Countries, giving generously to the church to found convents and build churches and monasteries. Margaret's foundations were also practical; the convent she founded at Binche provided a hospital, orphanage and school for girls.
Richard's Religious Books
Richard's Religious BooksWe may have an indication of Richard's religious tastes, and possibly his spiritual life, in his personal library. It has been estimated that 'of the eleven books that he probably owned only four can be called devotional' (Sutton and Visser-Fuchs, p.84), a Book of Hours, relatively simply written and decorated. For Scripture he owned an English translation of the New Testament and an English verse paraphrase of the Old Testament. Like his mother he had The Book of Special Grace of Mechtild of Hackeborn, for meditation. The book also bears the name of his wife Anne Neville, and might as easily reflect her religious tastes. Meditation demands solitude and freedom from interruption, something more easily attained by an aristocratic woman than a man, especially one engaged in a busy public life, such as Richard was, as both duke and king.
Much has been made of the fact that Richard owned an English New Testament translated by John Wycliffe, raising the question that he was sympathetic to Lollard ideas. However the copy owned by Richard was an earlier, orthodox translation by Wycliffe to which no taint of heresy was attached. It is not known how easily Richard read and understood Latin, but an interest in reading the Gospels in the vernacular suggests an intention to absorb its message as perfectly as possible.
Richard III's Prayer
Richard's PrayerIt is Richard Ill's Book of Hours that has borne the weight of later conjectures concerning Richard's piety. In particular a prayer that was added to the book after it came into Richard's possession. This has been closely analysed in the hope of throwing light on everything from his spiritual life to his mental health. Richard's own circumstances have been taken to be directly relevant to words and phrases used in the prayer, as if it were composed with the king in mind, however texts of it have been found dating from the fourteenth century, and originating in places as far apart as Italy, Catalonia and Burgundy. It is a long prayer, designed for use by anyone in distress, anxiety, infirmity or affliction of any kind. The prayer seems to have been particularly valued by other medieval rulers: known owners of books containing it include Alexander, Prince of Poland, Maximilian I, Frederick of Aragon, and successive Dukes of Burgundy. Recitation of the prayer on thirty successive days was enjoined, in the belief that God would then turn the supplicant's troubles to 'joy and comfort.'
Without additions peculiar to a single owner, the normal contents of a Book of Hours were, principally, formal prayers of the Church designed for public recitation but suitable also for private use. The main constituent was the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a simpler, shorter version of the Divine Office, making it suitable for laypeople to pray either alone or with a companion. Like the Divine Office it was divided into sections corresponding to hours of the day: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers and Compline.
If Richard III used his Book of Hours regularly he would have made himself conscious of God continually during the day. In addition the book contained many prayers directed to and praising the Virgin Mary. Devotion to the Mother of God was popular among both clergy and laity at all times during the Middle Ages, and there is no reason to think that Richard III was any exception.
His Religious Donations
According to John Rous in his Anglica Historia, 'King Richard was praiseworthy for his building, as at Westminster, Nottingham, Warwick, York and Middleham, and many other places, which can be viewed. He founded a noble chantry for a hundred priests in the cathedral of York, and another college at Middleham. He founded another in the church of St Mary of Barking, by the Tower of London, and endowed the Queen's College at Cambridge with 500 marks annual rent.'
Jonathon Hughes suggests that Richard had an 'excessive preoccupation with chantry masses… He was responsible for ten chantry or collegiate foundations (apart from his patronage of Queen's College, Cambridge) and he distributed a stream of largesse to religious houses, parish churches, houses of friars, chapels and chantries'. He adds that many of Richard's gifts were small and mostly given in the north, where he established most of his foundations.
St Mary & St Akelda Church, MiddlehamRichard's surviving, and best known collegiate foundation is that at Middleham. On 21 February 1478 he obtained a licence to found and endow the college, which was to be served by a dean, six chaplains, five clerks and six choristers. As well as providing prayers for himself, his wife and son, prayers were to be offered for his surviving siblings, the king and queen, and his mother. Masses were also to be said for the soul of his father and his deceased brothers and sisters. However the college was not only to serve as a house of prayer, it was to contribute towards the better education of the clergy and improve services in the locality. The same licence also gave Richard permission to endow a college at Barnard Castle, comprising a dean and twelve priests. The endowment was valued at 400 marks per annum, twice the size of Middleham. All of these foundations would have been overshadowed by Richard's plan to establish a college of 100 priests at York Minster in 1483.
While Richard may have been concerned about his own soul, his was not a unique preoccupation. What his grants also demonstrate is his concern for the poor or those who lived in remote areas, and that they should have the benefit not only of a priest but one who was educated. If he was concerned for his own soul he was also concerned for the souls of his people, especially those in the north.
Sutton and Visser-Fuchs place Richard firmly in his time: 'Richard's religion was that of the later middle ages, humanised, fervent and personal within the strong and controlling framework of the church.' They assess from the known facts about him that 'his private piety was no different from that of his contemporaries, although his sorrows and cares may have been greater than most people's. He directed his attention to the same things: he, too, adopted favourite saints to be his patrons and intermediaries with God and had particular objects of veneration.'
Richard left no spiritual or other writings which would help us. But he owned religious books, whose character leads one to suppose that they were for use rather than ornament. He founded colleges and chantries and he gave alms generously in comparison to others. He probably, prayed every day, and no doubt attended Mass and other services of the church regularly. We know he had a confessor, so he will have received the Sacrament of Penance regularly too. As far as we can judge, Richard fulfilled his obligations and more, and for a medieval prince that was remarkable.
• The Piety of Cecily, Duchess of York: A Study in Late Mediaeval Culture' by C.A.J. Armstrong in For Hilaire Belloc, ed. Douglas Woodruff (1942).
• The Medieval Church in Manuscripts, Justin Clegg, British Library, 2003
• The Hours of Richard III, Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, Stroud, 1990
• Richard III's Books, Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, Stroud, 1997
• Richard III, Charles Ross, 1981, pbk.1988
• Margaret of York Duchess of Burgundy 1446-1503, Christine Weightman, Gloucester, 1989
• The Religious Life of Richard III Piety and Prayer in the North of England, Jonathan Hughes, Stroud, 1997
• British Library Harleian Maunuscript 433, 4 volumes, eds., Rosemary Horrox & P.W. Hammond, London, 1982
• Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, A.J. Pollard, Stroud, 1991
by Dr Livia Visser-Fuchs
Artillery. From The Battle of Bosworth by Graham Turner
© Osprey Publishing Ltd. www.ospreypublishing.comA number of pieces of direct evidence survive for Richard III's personal interests, the 'things he liked'. Most personal of all, perhaps, is his 'confession' in his letter to Louis XI, King of France, who had presented him, in 1480 when he was still duke of Gloucester, with a 'great bombard', the largest and most expensive gunpowder weapon available at the time. Richard thanked the king in a letter and added 'I have always taken and still take great pleasure in artillery and I assure you it will be a special treasure to me'. There was, of course, nothing unusual in a twenty-six-year-old nobleman being fascinated by such weapons: they were part of the most up-to-date military technology of the day.
We gain intimate information of a different nature about Richard's interests from the account of the Silesian traveller, Nicolas von Popplau, who met the king in the spring of 1484. Von Popplau reports how Richard was able to express admiration at his guest's mastery of the Latin tongue; praises the choir employed by the king as 'the sweetest music he had ever heard', describes the magnificence of the king's meal and the great ceremony that accompanied it, but also his graciousness to his guest. Their conversation, which almost made the king forget to eat, was wide ranging: it went from the Latin origin of the name of Pontefract to the exact date of the annual ceremony of feet washing on Maundy Thursday. The king asked von Popplau about continental princes and their affairs, and about the Turks in particular. Having been told how the king of Hungary had recently gained a great victory over them, Richard enviously exclaimed: 'I would like my kingdom and land to lie where the land and kingdom of the king of Hungary lies, on the Turkish frontier itself', and continued: 'Then I would certainly, with my own people alone, without the help of other kings, princes or lords, completely drive away not only the Turks, but all my enemies and opponents!'. His enthusiastic remark shows his confidence in his own military abilities as well as his awareness of the international situation, which made it impossible to create an alliance between the ever-squabbling princes of western Europe and organise a concerted attack on the Turks. The general impression of Richard that we get from von Popplau's account is that of a magnificent and thoughtful princely host, who took a great interest in many, diverse matters.
The Middleham JewelAnother indication of what Richard liked can be found in the will of Sir John Pilkington, a long standing servant of the house of York. He left a special bequest to Richard of his 'great emerald set in gold' which, during Sir John's lifetime, Richard had admired so much that he offered 100 marks (£66 13s. 4d.) for it. In the same context should be mentioned one of those prejudices, or rather 'myths', about Richard III which have sprung up over the years: the curious idea that he was a 'fop', a dandy. This is based on the misunderstanding, by several generations of historians, of the contents of the surviving Great Wardrobe accounts, which list among other things the materials needed for the robes worn by the fifteenth-century kings. These may appear unusually sumptuous but in fact merely illustrate the standard norms of a medieval court and its splendours.
Richard's Religious BooksFinally and most importantly there is Richard's undoubted liking for books. His surviving 'library' is a remarkable collection, covering most medieval interests and fields of knowledge, except medicine, law, and theology. Striking is the fact that he put his name in his books, not as common a practice in his day as one might think. The bias of his collection, if there is one, is towards history and the history books together covered nearly everything from mythical beginnings to his own day: the story of Troy by Guido delle Collone and the lives of the British kings by Geoffrey of Monmouth, both in Latin (St Petersburg, Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library MS Lat. F IV 74 and 76), a chronicle of England, in Latin, covering the period from the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to the coronation of King John in 1199 (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 96), and a history of France, in French, covering the period 1270-1380. Five of his books were religious/devotional: his book of hours (London, Lambeth Palace Library MS 474), a collection of Old Testament stories in verse (Longleat House, Library of the Marquess of Bath, MS 257), the New Testament in English translation, an unusual book for a prince to own at the time (New York, Public Library, MS De Ricci 67), a life of St Katherine in Latin by the Italian Pietro Carmeliano (Richard's own copy does not survive) and the English translation of work of St Mechtild of Hackeborn, which may have been his wife's (London, British Library, MS Egerton 2006). On military and chivalric matters he had an English translation of Vegetius' De re militari, a standard work on the training of soldiers and warfare in general (British Library, MS Royal 18 A xii), Ramon Lull's Order of Chivalry, a manual on knighthood translated and printed by William Caxton in 1484, William Worcester's Boke of Noblesse and his Documents on the War in France, a treatise and a set of documents advertising the renewal of the war in France (British Library MS Royal 18 B xxii, and Lambeth Palace Library MS 506), and several rolls of arms. To these can be added a number of genealogical rolls and the most famous of medieval 'mirrors for princes' Giles of Rome's De regimine principum in Latin (Lambeth Palace, MS Arc. L 40.2 / L 26). Unusual texts, probably owned by Richard, were a collection of letters on statecraft ascribed to the Sicilian tyrant Phalaris, edited by Pietro Carmeliano (Dublin, Trinity College, MS 429).
Manuscript and Print
There are several interesting general aspects to Richard's collection of books: he had no preference for manuscript over print, and did not demand that all his books were new, or sumptuously decorated. Through the quirks of survival his collection includes one of merely two surviving copies of the English translation of Mechtild of Hackeborn's Book of Special Grace, the only extant copy of a prose translation of the romance of Ipomedon (Library of the Marquess of Bath, MS 257), the only manuscript copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae known to have belonged to a medieval king of England, and one of the two surviving texts of the Prophecy of the Eagle with a particular Commentary, which was added to the Historia. The proportion of romances in Richard's collection was unusually high: Lydgate's Siege of Thebes, Chaucer's Knight's Tale and Clerk's Tale, the Prose Ipomedon, (all in the marquess of Bath's ms.) the Prose Tristan in French (British Library, MS Harley 49).
Caxton was at the height of his production during Richard's brief reign and dedicated his Order of Chivalry to the king, and most important of all in the context of printing: when Richard's parliament took measures to control alien workers and their goods in England, books and their makers were specifically exempted. There can be little doubt that among the kings of England, of any period, Richard's interest in books and the booktrade is unusual and remarkable.
• Anne F. Sutton, '"A Curious Searcher for our Weal Public": Richard III, Piety, Chivalry and the Concept of the "Good Prince"', in Richard III. Loyalty, Lordship and Law, ed. P.W. Hammond, London 1986, repr. 2000.
• Anne F. Sutton, 'The Court and its Culture', in John Gillingham, ed., Richard III. A Medieval Kingship, London 1993.
• Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, Richard III's Books. Ideals and Reality in the Life and Library of a Medieval Prince, Stroud 1997.
Richard's Military Reputation
In 1471 King Edward was determined to regain his throne and he joined battle against his cousin and former ally, the earl of Warwick, at Barnet. The vanguard was led by the eighteen-year-old Richard and his success was recorded in the poem On the Recovery of the Throne by Edward IV:
The duke of Glocetter, that nobill prynce,
Yonge of age and victorius in batayle,
To the honour of Ectour [Hector] that he myghte comens,
Grace hym folowith, fortune, and good spede.
In 1475 King Edward mounted an expedition to France but quarrelled with his ally and brother-in-law, the duke of Burgundy, and made peace with the French king. Richard appeared to have hoped for a glorious campaign on the lines of Henry V's in 1415 and it was recorded that:
Original artwork by Gerry Hitch
'king of England was accommodated by the King of France with whatever he wanted, even to the very torches and candles. The Duke of Gloucester, the King of England's brother, and some other persons of quality, were not present at this interview, as being averse to the treaty; but they recollected themselves afterwards, the Duke of Gloucester waited on the king our master at Amiens.'
Following Richard's campaign to Scotland in 1482, his brother, King Edward IV, wrote to Pope Sixtus IV thus:
'Have resolved to state what was achieved this summer in Scotland, that the truth may be known. Thank God, the giver all good gifts, for the support received from our most loving brother, whose success is so proven that he alone would suffice to chastise the whole kingdom of Scotland. This year we appointed our very dear brother Richard Duke of Gloucester to command the same army which we ourselves intended to have led last year, had not adverse turmoil hindered us. … The noble band of victors, however, spared the supplicant and prostrate citizens, the churches, and not only the widows, orphans, and minors, but all persons found there unarmed.'
Richard as 'Good Lord'
The King. Original artwork by Gerry HitchFrom the Mayor and the Council of the city of York (1476) for his support:
'The saide day and tyme by the forsaide Maire and Counsaile it was holie agreed and assented that the Duk of Gloucestre shall for his grete labour of now late made unto the kinges good grace for the conservacion of the liberties of this Citie, that he shalbe presented at his commyng to the citie with vj swannes and vj pikes'.
In his role as a 'good lord' Richard would have been asked to act as an executor. One such example is found in the will of Sir John Pilkington who came from an influential northern family:
'… Item I will that my son Edward beforwith after my dethe be had to my lorde of Gloucestre and my lorde Chambrelane, hertly beseching thame as they will in my name sesuch [beseech] the king is goode grace that myn executors may have the wardeshipp and mariege of my said son … I lowly and hertly besuche my lorde of Gloucestre and my lorde Chambrelane, that they will, at the reverence of God, by myn executors …'
Richard's Reaction on the Death of George, Duke of Clarence
In 1478 Richard's brother George, duke of Clarence, was arrested by the king and tried for treason, found guilty and privately executed. Dominic Mancini, an Italian who visited England in 1483, wrote about Richard's reaction:
'At that time Richard, duke of Gloucester, was so overcome with grief for his brother, that he could not dissimulate so well, but that he was overheard to say that he would one day avenge his brother's death.'
Richard as King
Following Richard's royal progress after his coronation, Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David's, wrote:
Original artwork by Gerry Hitch
'I trust to God sune, by Michelmasse, the Kyng shal be at London. He contents the people wher he goys best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffred wrong many days have be relevyd and helpyd by hym and his commands in his progresse. And in many grete citeis and townis wer grete summis of mony gif hym which he hath refusyd. On my trouth I lykyd never the condicions of ony prince so wel as his; God hathe sent hym to us for the wele of us al …'
John Rous of Warwick recorded in the Rous Roll:
'The moost myghty prynce Rychard … all avarice set asyde, rewled hys subiettys in hys realme ful commendabylly, poneschynge offenders of hys lawes, specially extorcioners and oppressors of hys comyns, and chereschynge tho that were vertues, by the whyche dyscrete guydynge he gat gret thank of God and love of all his subiettys ryche and pore and gret laud of the people of all othyr landys a bowt hym.'
Richard was concerned about justice, both for the individual and its administration. A Year Book reports one of his most famous acts, when he called together all his justices and posed three questions concerning specific cases. This record provides an idea of Richard's comprehension of and commitment to his coronation oath to uphold the law and its proper procedures.
The second question was this. If some justice of the Peace had taken a bill of indictment which had not been found by the jury, and enrolled it among other indictments 'well and truly found' etc. shall there be any punishment thereupon for such justice so doing? And this question was carefully argued among the justices separately and among themselves, … And all being agreed, the justices gave the King in his Council in the Star Chamber their answer to his question in this wise: that above such defaults enquiry ought to be made by a commission of at least twelve jurors, and thereupon the party, having been presented, accused and convicted, shall lose the office and pay fine to the King according to the degree of the misprision etc.'
William Caxton, the printer, dedicated his translation of Raymond Lull's Order of Chivalry to King Richard:
' … And thus thys lytyl book I presente to my redoubted, naturel and most dradde soverayne lord, kyng Rychard kyng of Englond and of Fraunce, to thende that he commaunde this book to be had and redde unto other yong lordes, knyghtes and gentylmen within this royame, that the noble ordre of chyvalrye be herafter better used & honoured than hit hath ben in late dayes passed. And herin he shalle do a noble & vertuouse dede. And I shalle pray almyghty God for his long lyf & prosperous welfare, & that he may have victory of al his enemyes, and after this short & transitory lyf to have everlasting lyf in heven where as is joy and blysse, world without ende, Amen.'
Richard's death was poignantly recorded in the minutes of the Council of York:
' … king Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northfolk [sic] and many other that turned ayenst hyme, with many other lordes and nobilles of this north parties was piteously slane murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie …'
A Posthumous Accolade
Richard III. Original artwork by Gerry HitchThis accolade for Richard comes from an unexpected source. In 1513 Lord Dacre, Warden of the Western Marches, wrote a letter which was summarised in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. Dacre seemed to feel intimidated by the reputations of Richard and the earl of Northumberland resulting from a raid they had made into Tevydale in the 1480s, which Dacre was expected to repeat. Nine years later, he is still concerned at their exploits in a letter to Wolsey who responds that, as they took effectual measures to punish and repress offenders, he hopes Dacre will obey his wholesome and friendly admonition and acquire, 'as good a character as they did'.
• Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field by P.W. Hammond and Anne F. Sutton.