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The Richard III Society

Promoting research into the life and times of Richard III since 1924

Patron: HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO

Richard III


His life & death

His family

His leadership

His appearance

The controversies

richardiii coat of arms


His Leadership

His Parliament

by Dr Anne Sutton


Westminster Hall
Westminster Hall
A good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people,' wrote Lord Chancellor Sir Francis Bacon of Richard III; Bacon was a man who knew his acts of parliament. The high percentage of acts passed by Richard's parliament that tried to improve conditions for ordinary people reveals the reason for Bacon's good opinion. Richard III's only parliament was opened 23 January 1484, having been postponed from 6 November 1483 as a result of Buckingham's rebellion. It was opened by a speech from Chancellor Russell on the theme of peace; several versions of this speech survive, the first clearly made when Edward V was still king and Richard of Gloucester protector; that is, Russell had prepared it for the first parliament which Edward would hold. The main matters before the assembly in 1484 were the ratification of the new king's title, which was accomplished by the act which is known as the Titulus regis, and the attainder of the rebels with the formal forfeiture and seizure of their lands into the king's hands. The king also needed money as he had been ruling for half a year and put down a rebellion without any special grant from parliament or enjoyment of the usual customs duties on goods going out or coming into the realm which were granted to each king in his first parliament. This financial situation was acknowledged by the unprecedented grant to Richard of the customs for his life in his first parliament. Apart from these all important acts there were twenty-one private acts, that is acts which benefited particular individuals such as Lord Lovell, or settled the descent of particular lands such as those of the duchy of Exeter.

Use and Fine

The long delay before Richard could hold his first parliament may have given him and his council time to formulate several acts which would benefit the country and were especially favoured by the new chancellor, John Russell - undoubtedly a key figure throughout the parliament - or the king himself. Probably the most important of these were the acts that concerned the legal instruments of the use and the fine, both of which aimed to ease the processes of proving title to land and remove prevalent frauds. As regards the use, the chancellor may have been keen to stop the flood of cases before him in the court of chancery that concerned dishonest feoffees (trustees) who held to the use of the owner of land. The fine was a form of conveyance and the new act ordered their immediate publication, secrecy having encouraged fraud.


A medieval market
A medieval market
The protection of the lower orders from corrupt officials was the subject of three acts directed at the activities of JPs, the courts of sheriffs and piepowder courts. Bail was to be allowed for persons imprisoned on suspicion of felony and their possessions were to be protected until they had been formally tried and found guilty; this act generally encouraged JPs to inquire more carefully into all arrests of persons on mere suspicion. The standard of juries empanelled for sheriffs' tourns was raised by decreeing that jurymen should be worth 20s or over a year - it was generally believed that the more well to do were less open to bribery. The Lord Chancellor's opening speech had referred specifically to the evil of corrupt empanelling. New penalties were introduced, and an earlier act reinforced, to correct dishonest officials at piepowder courts, which had jurisdiction over cases that arose during markets and fairs and required swift and reliable justice for the traders. Although these acts may have been promoted by members of Richard's council, there is little doubt they reflected a particular interest of the king. Richard's own experience of cases before his ducal council made him well aware of the damage that corrupt officials could inflict on the poorest of his subjects; it was also to be a theme of his pronouncements as king throughout his reign.

An act that earned instant popularity, and was also presumably promoted by the king and his council, was the abolition of the benevolence. The benevolence was a royal demand for money that had not been sanctioned by parliament, and had been used with great success by Edward IV to the increasing irritation of his subjects and especially Londoners.

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Trade Protection

Other acts concerned the cloth industry and the office of aulnager, ordered that ten bowstaves were to be imported with every butt of malmesey wine, decreed the size of butts for wine and oil, protected collectors of taxes on the clergy in the court of the exchequer . These were useful and all promoted by the men involved. Anti-alien acts were persistent features of medieval parliaments and especially promoted by the citizens of London, a city with a history of anti-alien riots and a substantial number of alien residents. Italian merchants and alien artisans were the main targets. Richard's parliament re-enacted two anti-alien acts of Edward IV's first parliament and one new act that prohibited the import of a wide variety of small manufactured goods, ordered alien merchants to spend the profits of their sales on English goods, and limited aliens' right to take non-English apprentices. This act was undoubtedly almost as popular with Londoners as the anti-benevolence act; partly a reward for London's assistance during Richard's accession. The Italians immediately entered negotiations to overturn the clauses hostile to them, while prosecution under other clauses always depended on the energy of locals. The conspicuous proviso to this legislation was that the book-trade and its artisans should not be affected in any way - education and learning was protected. Although not mentioned specifically, printing was protected - the new skill was well established in England by this time, notably in London, and it is probable that Richard's statutes were the first to be printed, and books printed abroad (in Latin and French) were already flooding into the country. Undoubtedly there were many clerics on the king's council who would have supported this proviso, and Richard's own surviving books testify to his interest.

Members of Parliament

We know little about the composition of the Commons, but William Catesby was chosen to be their speaker, a choice calculated to please the king as he had already found Catesby to be a useful and active servant. Other key figures included Dr Thomas Hutton, clerk of the parliament, and Thomas Barowe, a cleric in Richard's service since 1471, who received petitions to the parliament and was the new master of the rolls.

Further Reading

• J.W. Bean, The Decline of English Feudalism 1215-1540 (Manchester, 1968)

• S.B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, 1936)

• P.W. Hammond, ed., Richard III: Loyalty, Lordship and Law (London, repr, 2000)

• H.G. Hanbury 'The legislation of Richard III', American Journal of Legal History, vol. 6 (1962)

• J.G. Nichols, Grants from the Crown during the Reign of Edward V, Camden Society (1854)

• James Petre, ed., Richard III, Crown and People (London 1985)

• C. Ross, Richard III (London 1981)

• Rolls of Parliament available on CD as The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed., C. Given-Wilson et al (2005)

• Statutes of the Realm, ed. A. Luders et al, vol. 2 (London, 1810-28)

• A.F. Sutton, '"The administration of justice wherunto we be professed"', The Ricardian, vol. 4 (1976)

• A.F. Sutton and L. Visser-Fuchs, Richard III's Books (Stroud, 1997)

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His Military Career

by Wendy E.A. Moorhen

'Such was his renown in warfare'

Battle of Barnet
Richard at the Battle of Barnet
Challenge in the Mist by Graham Turner
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist
In January 1483 the Rolls of Parliament recorded that the King, Lords and Commons

'understand and consider that the Duke [of Gloucester], being Warden of the West Marches, by his diligent labours … has subdued a great part of the west borders of Scotland, adjoining England, by the space of thirty miles and more … and has [secured] divers parts thereof to be under the obedience of [the King] to the great surety and ease of the north parts of England'.

This statement demonstrates the regard in which Richard was held at the close of the reign of his brother King Edward IV. Nevertheless, Richard's military reputation, despite contemporary enthusiasm, has been challenged by historians beginning with the Crowland Chronicler and in recent years by Desmond Seward who pointed out the obvious – that Richard only commanded an army at one pitched battle – and Michael Hicks who wrote that his 'military reputation was unearned' and 'inflated'. The reality was very different. Warfare has many facets, of which, it could be argued, the pinnacle is to lead an army into full battle. Before reaching such heights, however, much has to be achieved in practical terms – diplomacy explored, castles and towns fortified, musters raised, artillery sourced, victuals provided, intelligence organised as well as participation in smaller scale events such as raids and skirmishes. Throughout his adult life Richard was involved in such matters, hardly surprising in view of the internecine strife that blighted England in the second half of the fifteenth century coupled with the invasion of England's old enemies, France and Scotland.

First Steps

Much has been written about the main campaigns that Richard was involved in, the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, the invasion of Scotland and of course, Bosworth and I do not propose to cover these in any detail as members will probably be familiar with these landmark events. What I am going to do is to describe briefly Richard's wide experience in warfare outside these major events.

Somerset's advance at Tewkesbury
Somerset's advance at Tewkesbury
Artwork from 'Campaign 131: 'Tewkesbury 1471: The last Yorkist victory'
by Graham Turner
©Osprey Publishing Ltd.
Richard's training in the art of warfare began at an early age under the tutelage of the earl of Warwick and would have been the same as that experienced by all young noblemen. He would have read the conventional texts about warfare and in due course he possessed a copy of the hands-on military textbook – Vegetius' De re militari. Richard's first experience of campaigning was during the period when the relationship between King Edward and Warwick began to founder and the latter tempted Clarence, the king's middle brother, to join his cause. In 1469, there was a series of disturbances in the north led by the 'Robins of Redesdale and Holderness' and the uprising in Lancashire was sufficiently serious to bring the king north to deal with it. Edward took his youngest brother along and the royal party made a leisurely progress via East Anglia. A letter written by John Paston recounts how the duke of Gloucester recruited four men to take arms under his banner. When the royal party reached Newark, the situation became quite ugly, as 'Robin of Redesdale' with a force larger than that of the king, was moving rapidly south. The king and Richard fled to the safety of Nottingham Castle. 'Redesdale' continued his march and defeated the loyalist Welsh forces, under the command of the earl of Pembroke, near Banbury, leaving the way clear for Warwick to move against King Edward who by 2 August was his captive in Coventry. Warwick's success was short-lived and by October Edward was in London accompanied by Richard. Kendall conjectured that it was due to Richard's active support during the previous few weeks and his endeavours in raising loyal troops that Edward now rewarded and promoted his brother who had just turned seventeen. Richard received grants for estates and lands, he was appointed Constable of England, received commissions to array men in Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire and was appointed Chief Justice of North Wales. There was trouble stirring in Wales and King Edward decided that Richard was the person to sort it out. A grant dated 16 December gave Richard his 'first independent military command' (Kendall, p. 79) when he was given full power and authority to 'reduce and subdue' the castles of Carmarthen and Cardigan in south Wales and to deal with the local rebels. After a brief return to England, he was again sent to Wales leading a commission of oyer and terminer [a commission to hold and pass judgment in specified cases] and the following month was appointed Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales, making him the 'virtual Viceroy of the principality' (Kendall, p.79).

Meanwhile King Edward faced new difficulties with a rising in Lincolnshire led by Sir Robert Welles, who was the agent of Warwick and Clarence. The king successfully defeated the rebels at Empingham in the action known as the battle of 'Lose-coat' Field and a few days later Warwick and Clarence were proclaimed traitors. Edward pursued the rebels but had to give up the chase due to the lack of provisions for his soldiers. Warwick and Clarence fled to Chesterfield and intended to move westwards to join Warwick's brother-in-law, Lord Stanley, in Manchester. Richard does not appear to be with the king during this period and it can be supposed he was still on active service in Wales. The only clue to Richard's activities during March is in a proclamation made in York by Edward. Reference was made to a 'matter of variance' between Richard and Lord Stanley. Kendall has suggested that Richard decided to leave Wales to assist Edward but had a run-in with some supporters of Stanley and warned the king of Stanley's disloyalty. Stanley, the consummate trimmer, assessed the situation and abandoned Warwick. The day after the York proclamation, 26 March, Richard was commissioned to array the men of Gloucester and Hereford and, on 17 April, the men of Devon and Cornwall. The last appointment was perhaps too late as the same month Warwick and Clarence escaped to France from the west country.

King Edward was aware that the return of Warwick was imminent and the summer was spent in preparing for an invasion. In June Richard headed commissions of array for Gloucester, Somerset and Hereford, he was sent to Lincoln in July on a commission of oyer and terminer and the following month joined Edward on a march to Yorkshire to assist the earl of Northumberland to put down a rebellion. Warwick landed in England in September. Edward and Richard marched south but when they reached Doncaster the hitherto loyal brother of Warwick, John, Marquess of Montagu, threw in his hand with the traitors. The king, his brother and followers were forced to flee and on 2 October set sail for Burgundy. Their exile lasted for a little under six months and the royal brothers returned to England in March 1471. Details of Richard's involvement in King Edward's campaign to regain his throne are found in Peter Hammond's authoritative The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury but may be briefly summarised by describing how on 14 April, Easter Sunday, Richard was entrusted with the right wing of the royal host at the Battle of Barnet, where he was slightly wounded, and within three weeks he again led the vanguard at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In both engagements, Richard acquitted himself well. King Edward re-established his authority although there was still some scattered unrest, Warwick, Montagu and Edward of Wales were dead and for the next twelve years, there was a respite from the civil conflict.

Warden of the West Marches

Shield of Richard III
Shield of Richard III
© Geoffrey Wheeler
King Edward now began his 'second reign'. The events of the past two years had seen losses within the mighty baronial families and some 'territorial re-ordering' was required (Ross, p. 334). One such territory was the north of England where Warwick had been pre-eminent and where Richard was now established by the king. He had been created Warden of the West Marches towards Scotland in August 1470 and he now relinquished his great office as Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales to concentrate on his new role in the north that included the policing of the borders and the care and repair of fortifications. Kendall writes that Richard immediately 'set forth on a campaign against the Scots' (p. 107) but does not cite any evidence for this and it is unlikely that England would take an aggressive role at this stage following the recent upheavals in England. In all likelihood just the opposite was the case as on 7 August a warrant was issued for the safe conduct of Scottish ambassadors to 'treat with the English' and authority was granted to the English commissioners on the 26th 'to redress March offences'. Despite meetings between England and Scotland (September 1471 in Alnwick, May 1472 in Newcastle and a schedule for 'March meetings by the Wardens to redress complaints') there were frequent raids by both sides on land and at sea as the existing truce crumbled. In April 1474, a Scottish proclamation was made summoning the lieges to muster at Lauder under the duke of Albany to resist a raid to be led by Richard who also harried the Scots at sea and his ship the Mayflower captured James III's Yellow Carvel. King Edward had to make reparation to the Scots in February 1475 for this incident following a truce negotiated late in 1474. Life on the marches, therefore, appeared to be lively with forays and skirmishes and with the Wardens being generally in a state of high alert.

Involvement in a more substantial military campaign brought Richard south in 1475 when he joined his brother and almost the entire nobility of England for King Edward's 'Great Expedition' – the invasion of France. Richard's contribution of men was the greatest from any peer. He was indented to provide 120 men at arms and 1,000 archers but in the event brought an additional 300 men, much to his brother's delight. Richard no doubt regarded the war as justifiable and only reluctantly accepted the negotiated settlement made by his brother with Louis XI. Richard returned to his northern domain where the breaches of the truce with Scotland were becoming more frequent. By 1479 the region was in crisis, and war became inevitable. Border raids by the Scots began on a large scale in the spring of 1480 and on 12 May King Edward responded by appointing Richard Lieutenant-General of the North, charged to lead an army against the Scots. He led commissions of array for the three Yorkshire ridings, Cumberland, Westmorland and Northumberland. The Scots made a pre-emptive strike in the summer led by the earl of Angus who penetrated into England as far as Bamborough which he fired. Richard, supported by a contingent of men from York, swiftly retaliated and it appears he was successful enough to keep the Scots on their side of the border for the time being. The duke then visited Sheriff Hutton and proceeded to make repairs to the defences of the major fortress on the western march - Carlisle.

Scottish Campaigns

In 1481 there was an escalation in preparations for an invasion to be led by the king in the summer and to prepare the way, John, Lord Howard, sailed into the Firth of Forth in late spring destroying and capturing Scottish ships and burning Blackness. Richard had in the meantime recruited men to the border garrisons and worked closely with the earl of Northumberland to establish how many men could be called upon for the invasion. Richard, along with the Scottish renegade earl of Douglas, was also given the task of suborning key Scottish lords to weaken King James's support but this covert activity met with little success. In March Richard had visited London to discuss the invasion plans but was no doubt dismayed later in the year to learn that the king had decided not to undertake the campaign himself because of 'adverse turmoil' and left Richard and Northumberland 'to wage a vigorous war against the Scots' (Scofield II, p. 321). King Edward did travel as far as Nottingham where he arrived on 1 October and stayed until the 20th. Richard met with the king where it was no doubt agreed that it was too late in the season for the full invasion to take place that year. In Richard's absence from the immediate vicinity of the war Northumberland may have appealed to the citizens of York for men in a letter dated 13 October when he reported the Scots were already in his eponymous county. The year of the letter is uncertain (Kendall attributed it to 1480) but the incident may well be the one recorded by the Scottish historian John Lesley (p. 45) that the 'borderers invaded the marches of England and took away many preys of goods and destroyed many towns and led many persons in Scotland'. Following the fresh news of Scottish incursions into England Richard returned to the front, laid siege to the town and citadel of Berwick, which he failed to take, and was no doubt involved in the 'intermittent warfare [that] continued all along the border during the winter' (Ross, p. 282).

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
The new year brought a new campaigning season and on 21 February Richard received a commission to obtain the necessary victuals for his army and with leave to find them anywhere in England, Wales and Ireland. The harvest had been poor, hence the permission to find grain and crops wherever they were available. On 22 May Richard led an attack into southwest Scotland and reached Dumfries which he burned amongst other towns. Events now took an unexpected turn when the brother of King James III, the duke of Albany, arrived in England from France where he had been living since fleeing Scotland in 1479. King Edward welcomed the Scottish traitor and during a stay at Fotheringhay, where they were joined by Richard, a treaty was agreed on 11 June when the English king recognized Albany's claim to the throne of Scotland. The following day Richard was confirmed as Lieutenant-General of the North and with Albany set out on the invasion of Scotland. He had authority to raise an army of around 20,000 men and sufficient funds to pay them for four weeks. The muster was complete by mid-July and the army crossed the border. The English host was large enough to terrify Berwick and the town fell to Richard without further delay, although the citadel held out. Lord Stanley was left to continue the siege whilst Richard moved north, devastating Roxburghshire and Berwickshire, all the while expecting to meet the Scottish army. He was to be disappointed. On 22 July King James's dissatisfied subjects had taken their king prisoner at Lauder, executed his favourites and returned with their royal prisoner to Edinburgh. As Richard moved towards the capital the rebels moved to Haddington, situated fifteen miles to the east, and awaited developments. Richard found himself entering an undefended Scottish capital. He controlled his army and the city was not molested. The king's captors were prepared to negotiate with Richard. Albany immediately abandoned his hope of becoming king and settled for the restoration of his lands and position. The Scots asked for a peace treaty and that the proposed marriage between the Scottish heir and princess Cecily take place. Richard demanded the return of Berwick Castle and the dowry paid for the princess. The settlement was that the marriage would go ahead if it were Edward's wish, otherwise the dowry would be repaid. Richard left Edinburgh, disbanded most of his army at Berwick on 11 August, and continued with the siege. The castle fell on 24 August. The Crowland Chronicler was dismissive of the campaign – that it cost too much for too little gain and that King Edward was grieved at the 'frivolous expenditure'. It is, however, difficult to see what other outcome there could have been. Richard, on the ground, would have appreciated the mood of the Scots and that it would not be possible to establish Albany on the throne, although the situation might have been different if the Scottish army had been vanquished. In any event, this was not one of the original aims of the war. Richard himself was also keenly aware of the cost of the army and that he could not afford to prolong the negotiations or his stay in Scotland. In modern parlance, he had achieved his objective and completed the project on schedule and within budget.

Richard's penultimate military campaign was the preparation to meet the threat of the Buckingham rebellion in the autumn of 1483. He was ably supported by Norfolk, who was close to one of the front lines, and the entire incident clearly demonstrated Richard's military acumen as he swiftly and easily suppressed the disparate uprisings without personally becoming involved in even a skirmish.


Battle of Bosworth
Site of Battle of Bosworth
Finally, we come to Bosworth, where at last Richard commanded his own army and a battle was joined but with disastrous results for the king. Battles are always uncertain events and the outcome can never be foretold with any certainty. This was the battle, however, that should have been won by the king but the vicissitudes of men's loyalties snatched victory from a man who throughout his short life was intimate with all things martial. Was there to be another king of England who was so hands-on? Certainly no Tudor. Possibly a Stuart or two? Richard as duke and king never shirked his duty to pursue war, be it in preparation or actuality, skirmish or battle. He may have had little interest in the courtly posturing of the joust, so beloved of his brother Edward and his great nephew, Henry VIII, but Richard embraced the art of warfare as a true chivalric prince who, if he had successfully survived Bosworth, might have gone on to fight a holy war against the Turks. Those who challenge his prowess and generalship need perhaps to look more deeply into his military career, and though the sources are scant, the effort is worthwhile. Richard, Duke of Gloucester was highly rated by his contemporaries and it is difficult to see how this reputation, in hindsight, can be easily dismissed even allowing for some degree of propaganda by the Yorkist government about his exploits in Scotland. What was written five hundred years ago cannot be unwritten and I will close with a few of those observations. The first of these is a political song written to commemorate the Battle of Tewkesbury:

The duke of Glocetter, that nobill prynce,
Yonge of age and victorius in batayle,
To the honoure of Ectour [Hector of Troy] that he myghte comens,
Grace hym folowith, fortune, and good spede

(re-printed in both Richard III: The Road to Bosworth and Richard III's Books. The editors of the latter commented that 'Although the likening to Hector was standard panegyric, it was no mean compliment and Richard is the only character compared to a named hero.')

Next we have a letter of June 1482 appointing Richard as Commander of the army against the Scots: 'King Edward to all to whom these matters appertain. We therefore meaning to oppose his [James III's] malice and such great injury, trusting with full powers our illustrious brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, in whom not only for his nearness and fidelity of relationship, but for his proved skill in military matters and his other virtues …' followed by a letter from Edward to Pope Sixtus, dated 25 August 1482. 'Thank God, the giver of 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.' (Both quotations are from Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field pp. 83 and 86.)

The Death of Richard
The Death of Richard
Artwork from The Battle of Bosworth by Graham Turner
© Osprey Publishing Ltd
From Dominic Mancini (not known as an admirer of Richard) in his Usurpation of Richard III 'Such was his renown in warfare that, whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and his generalship' (p. 65).


And finally, perhaps the most surprising of all, in a letter written by Lord Dacre, Warden of the Western Marches in 1513. The letter, referred to in Paul Murray Kendall's endnotes, was summarised in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII. Dacre seemed to feel intimidated by the reputations of Richard and Northumberland resulting from a raid they had made into Tevydale and which he was expected to repeat. Nine years later, he is still concerned at their exploits in a letter to Wolsey who responds 'as they took effectual measures to punish and repress offenders, hopes Dacre will obey his wholesome and friendly admonition and acquire, as good a character as they did'.


Printed primary sources:

  • Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland 1357-1509, ed. J. Bain, London 1888
  • Calendar of Patent Rolls: Edward IV 1468-76, London 1899
  • Calendar of Patent Rolls: Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III (1476-15), London 1901
  • Hall's Chronicle, reprinted London 1809
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, eds. J.S. Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H. Brodie, 21 vols, London 1862-1932. Vol. 1 Part 2 and Vol. 4 Part 1.
  • The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 edited by Nicholas Pronay and John Cox, London 1986
  • The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini, Gloucester 1984
  • York House Books 1461-1490 edited by Lorraine Attreed, 2 vols, Stroud 1991

Further reading:

  • Edward IV by Charles Ross, London 1974
  • James III - A Political Study by Norman Macdougall, Edinburgh 1982
  • Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall, London 1955
  • Richard III by Charles Ross, London 1981
  • Richard III - England's Black Legend by Desmond Seward, London 1983
  • Richard III - The road to Bosworth Field by P W Hammond and Anne F Sutton, London 1985
  • Richard III - The Man behind the Myth by Michael Hicks, London 1991 and republished as Richard III, Stroud 2000
  • Richard III - A Source Book by Keith Dockray, Gloucester 1997
  • Richard III's Books by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, Stroud 1997
  • Scotland - The Later Middle Ages by Ranald Nicholson, Edinburgh 1974
  • The Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury by P W Hammond, Gloucester 1990
  • The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth by Cora L Schofield, 2 vols, London 1924, reprinted 1967

First published in the Ricardian Bulletin Spring 2004

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As a Great Magnate

by Dr Livia Visser-Fuchs

Early Years

Middleham by Graham Turner.
Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.
In his twenties Richard of Gloucester himself recorded that he had been 'nakedly born into this wretched world, destitute of all possessions, goods and inheritance' and that it had been God's 'infinite goodness' that had granted him his 'great possessions and gifts'. This claim was only partly rhetorical, for he was born the fourth surviving son of his parents and had no grand titles to look forward to. It is, in fact, possible that he was destined for the church, and no one could have predicted that he would die king of England. It was only when his brother Edward took the throne and recalled his young brothers, George and Richard, from exile in the Low Countries that Richard's fortune changed dramatically: on 1 November 1461 he was created Duke of Gloucester and shortly after elected a Knight of the Garter.

The Fruits of Loyalty

Signature with motto of King Richard
Signature with motto of King Richard.
Redrawn by Piat Design
In the next eight years, up to the crisis of 1469-71, Edward IV granted his younger brother a number of lands forfeited by his opponents, but he was much more generous towards his elder brother, George of Clarence, who was until 1466 the heir presumptive. The lands granted to Richard during these years were mostly returned to their former owners in due time, or even given to Clarence. However, Richard was made Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine on 2 October 1462, an office he retained until he became king. In 1469-71, and especially after Edward's successful regaining of his crown, Clarence's treason and Richard's conspicuous loyalty meant that the latter's star really began to rise. On 17 October 1469 Richard was created Constable of England and on 7 November Chief Justice of North Wales, receiving important offices in South Wales at the same time. To this was added, on 18 May 1471, Great Chamberlain of England and on 4 July Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster in the north, offices formerly held by Warwick.

Powerbase in the North

Penrith Castle
Penrith Castle obtained by Richard as part
of the Warwick inheritance
Richard also obtained Warwick lands, among them the lordships of Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and Penrith; he was re-instated as Warden of the West March and made Keeper of the Royal Forests north of Trent. He regained the forfeited lands of the De Vere earls of Oxford which he lost before. All these and many other grants, culminating in his being made a hereditary lord palatine of the counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland - together with any parts of south-west Scotland that he might conquer(!) - set Richard up as the most influential man in the North. After Clarence's death in 1478, which finally resolved the running battle between the king's brothers for the vast Warwick inheritance, Richard became a greater landowner than any brother of a king of England had ever been.

Influence Elsewhere

Warwick the Kingmaker and his wife
Warwick the Kingmaker and his wife. Based on Rous Roll.
© Geoffrey Wheeler
Richard's 'lordship of the North', his paramount authority in that area in particular, meant that he more or less relinquished other possible power bases, such as East Anglia and Wales. His influence in those regions was fragmented and based on his position as the king's brother, his role was that of a 'national' rather than a 'local' figure. In the North he had been accepted as the heir of the Nevilles, he was familiar with the area since childhood and the patronage he could dispense was immense. His position in the North enabled him, and perhaps forced him, to take the throne itself when his brother's death left it virtually vacant and also deprived him of the support vital to maintaining his existing position.

Acquisition of Lands

How did Richard obtain all this power and influence? Much has been written about the ruthlessness he displayed in disinheriting aged widows - seen as a premonition of his taking of the throne in 1483 - and there is no doubt that his methods were not always strictly legal or even gentle. The collection of documents, now BL MS Cotton Julius B xii, relating to his ownership of lands and offices, past and present, actual and potential, has been adduced as evidence of his unusual energy in acquiring what he wanted and of his 'long memory' as far as consolidating his estates was concerned. It can be said in his defence that there was nothing unusual about his activities: what was unusual was his position as the king's (loyal) brother, which gave him better opportunities, including getting the best legal minds available, to still the 'land hunger' that all his peers suffered from.

The Use of Power

Queens College
Queens College Cambridge which received the
manor of Fowlmere from Richard
More important perhaps is the question: what did Richard do with his wealth and power? How did he use them, apart from appropriately maintaining his own status and that of his household? To take two examples: his use of some of the Oxford lands and his patronage in the North. In 1471 Richard had been granted, for the second time, the forfeited estates of John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, but in 1473, John's mother Elizabeth Howard, under instructions from Edward IV, also conveyed the lands she possessed in her own right, and which were not legally forfeit, to Richard, who promised to pay her a substantial annuity and promote the career of her son Richard, a student at Cambridge. Of these lands the manor of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire was granted to Queens' College, Cambridge; six manors were used to endow Middleham College, and three for St George's Chapel, Windsor. Whatever the manner of their acquisition, at least the income of these lands was put to a more general and commendable use.

The Council of the North

Sheriff Hutton became the HQ of the Council when Richard became king
Sheriff Hutton became the HQ of the Council
when Richard became king
The North, especially the north-east and the city of York itself, looked for and successfully obtained the 'good lordship' of the powerful duke of Gloucester. The citizens of York were consistently supported by him in their plans for economic development and this benefited the whole region; details of his welcome intervention survive. He was also concerned to improve the administration of local justice and, whatever his ulterior motives, he displayed a clear desire to have justice done impartially. Most famous is his establishment, when he was king, of the Council of the North, which created a precedent of 'impersonal' control not dependent on an over-mighty local magnate - such as he himself had been - that later kings were to follow.


• Michael Hicks, 'Richard III as Duke of Gloucester: a study in character', in the same, Richard III and His Rivals, London 1991.

• Rosemary Horrox, Richard III. A Study in Service, Cambridge 1989, ch. 1, 'The creation of an affinity'.

• A.J. Pollard, North-Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses, Oxford 1990, ch. 13, 'The hegemony of Richard of Gloucester, 1471-1483'.

• Charles Ross, Richard III, London 1981, pt I, 'The Duke of Gloucester'.

• Anne F. Sutton, 'Richard of Gloucester and his East Anglian Lands', and

• Anne F. Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, 'As dear to him as the Trojans were to Hector': Richard III and the University of Cambridge', both in Richard III and East Anglia. Proceedings of the 8th Triennial Conference of the Richard III Society held at Queens' College, Cambridge, 15-17 April 2005.

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Governor of The North

by A.J. Pollard, Emeritus Professor, University of Teesside

Richard, the North and the Historians

Paul Murray Kendall
Richard's biographer, Paul Murray Kendall
In the general climate of unthinking antagonism towards Richard III which prevailed in English historical writing until the twentieth century, historians were reluctant to acknowledge any special relationship between the king and the north. Even those with regional roots and connections found it difficult to comprehend. Francis Drake, the eighteenth-century historian of York, was puzzled that 'the hypocrite' seemed 'to pay an extraordinary regard to' the city. [7] William Hutchinson the historian of Durham flatly denied later in the century that 'the dreadful machinations by which Richard, Duke of Gloucester was opening his passage to the throne' had 'any particular influence on the northern parts of the realm'. [19] It was left to politically incorrect Ricardians, from George Buck through to Caroline Halsted, to praise his good works in the north and proudly proclaim the great love and liking of the duke in the region, a view taken up by Kendall in his portrait of the man shaped by the boy who found the native country of his spirit in the elemental landscape of Wensleydale. [8, 10, 22]

While most political histories written in the twentieth century recognised that Richard III's apprenticeship was served in the north, that he was active in war against Scotland as warden of the West March, and that he established a close tie with the city of York, they were not disposed to examine in any detail the duke of Gloucester's relationship with northerners and the role he played in the province before 1483. It was usually enough to note that during his brother's lifetime he 'had behaved both loyally and correctly'. [20] Even as late as 1980 J. R. Lander could restrict his discussion of Richard III and the north to consideration of the wisdom of Edward IV's policy of entrusting the province to his brother and the use made by him of northerners in the south after the autumn 1483 rebellions (and this latter heavily dependent on one particular recent study). [23] Richard's loyalty before Edward IV's death was as often stressed to point up his perceived treachery in 1483 as to explore his actual relationship with the north. The agenda was firmly focussed on high politics; the provinces and localities were of little interest in themselves.

It was Charles Ross, himself a Yorkshireman, who was not particularly enamoured of the king, who first opened up the modern exploration of the relationship between Richard III and the north. Although his study of Richard III was not published until 1981, [31] he had already inspired a group of younger scholars – including Keith Dockray, Michael Hicks, Rosemary Horrox, Michael K. Jones and Tony Pollard, four of whom had been his students – to look afresh at the subject. The result was a wave of publications in the following decade which transformed the way in which we have approached the subject. [8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 ,16, 17, 21, 26, 27, 28]

Given the era in which they worked, it is not surprising that the emphasis was at first on ties of patronage and clientage. It began with the three Ridings of Yorkshire, but spread out to encompass Lancashire, Durham and Cumbria. While the main emphasis was on the network of peers and gentry who were retained by or were otherwise identified to have been in Richard III's service as duke of Gloucester, it extended also to urban oligarchies, especially the city of York, and to religious bodies, notably the dean and chapter of York and the priory of Durham. [1,5,6,24,25,26] What was first established, beyond any challenge, was that after 1471 Richard of Gloucester established himself as the dominant magnate in the northern counties and that he exercised a considerable amount of power in the region as a result.

Richard, the Province and the Realm

Interpreting Gloucester and the North was and remains more difficult. It has often been stated that Gloucester was entrusted with the government of the north by Edward IV; that he was even his vice-regent. To some extent this is incontrovertible. David Morgan has shown how the Yorkist regime in the north fitted into a wider pattern of what one might call devolved rule under Edward IV. [24] But one must never lose sight of the fact that Gloucester exercised what authority he held as the king's brother and his servant. He was not given carte blanche. Michael Hicks has proposed that he deliberately enhanced his landed interest in the northern counties and that he took more for himself than the king intended. [13, 14] Certainly after 1478 the situation had arisen whereby the king was dangerously dependent on his surviving and apparently loyal brother, who it seems could continue to get his own way. The question remains as to how much of what transpired between 1471 and 1483 in respect to Gloucester's growing power in the north was intended by Edward IV. In one area, in the north west where Edward promoted the controller of his household, Sir William Parr, Gloucester may not have had everything his own way until he secured a palatine grant at the beginning of 1483. [2]

We need also to consider the nature of the relationship between Gloucester and the region. His position was not secured overnight: he had to work for it, as tensions with the earl of Northumberland and Bishop Booth of Durham reveal. [11, 26] The connection between Gloucester and the local elites was two way. It was not just a question of what northern peers, gentry, ecclesiastics, monks and merchants could do for the duke, but equally what the duke could do for them. In the case of the city of York we know that he lobbied for them at court and, when king, did as they hoped; reduced the fee farm. [1] His very dominance pacified a twenty-year period of tension and conflict fuelled by Neville/Percy rivalry. But, as his relationship with Lord Stanley shows, it did not eradicate all conflict.[21] He was also called upon to arbitrate in disputes and appealed to for justice, most of which no doubt was passed to his council. When he had no personal interest, he appears to have administered the law impartially; when he did, as in the very process by which he acquired his share of Warwick the Kingmaker's inheritance, he had no concern whatsoever for the rights of others. [12] Not every northerner loved him; the city of York, it appears, for all that its council recorded in its minutes its dismay at his overthrow, was divided in its views about him. Richard III and the north was arguably a marriage of convenience. And what are we to make of his religious foundations? Do they reveal an unusual personal piety, or more a spiritual extension of the exercise of temporal power? It has been noted that he seems never to have settled on one foundation. First it was to be Barnard Castle, then Middleham, and finally when he was king the extraordinary projected chantry at York. There seems to have been a restless spirit here, an inability to make up his mind where he wanted to put down his roots and leave his bones. If the most recently expressed preference for his burial at the time of his death were to be honoured , the remains in 2012 would be re-interred in York Minster, not Leicester Cathedral . On the other hand, had he remained king for a decade or more, he would probably have revised his plans again and desired to be buried either in Westminster Abbey, or St George's Windsor [6, 18]

Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle, one of Richard's Yorkshire foundations
Intense study of Richard of Gloucester in the north may reveal something about his character. But what that something might be remains hard to pin down. Does it indicate a hard-working, constructive, loyal, law-giving deputy to his brother? Or does it suggest the search to compensate for his lack of endowment as the younger brother of a king? Or could it point to a restless ambition to advance himself by seizing every opportunity for aggrandisement that arose. In this light, at the beginning of 1483 he was all set to carve out for himself a new marcher palatinate based on Cumberland and south-west Scotland. But later in that year, in the months following his brother's death, the ultimate goal appeared within reach and was grasped. In other words study of Richard's career in the north does not in itself answer the profound question about the man and his personality which is posed by his actions in 1483.

Equally questions remain about the relationship between the king and north after 1483. Not everyone who put their trust in this particular prince was satisfied. Arguably the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland were sorely disappointed to discover that he intended to keep his hands on the rule of the north through his new council; a rule extended to Durham through his handling of the vacancy after the death of Bishop Dudley in the autumn of 1483. Richard III, as poacher turned gamekeeper, knew well not to allow others to build up a position comparable to his or his father-in-law's in the north. Thus he began the process of extending direct royal control over the region. We still do not fully understand what the earls and their followers did at Bosworth. Even those such as Ratcliffe, who flourished under the new regime and died at his side, seem to have been put out when they discovered that the king was planning a rapprochement with the Woodville family. Had Richard III been victorious on the field of Bosworth it is by no means certain that the north would have continued to bask in royal favour. A distancing from the north, already evident before his overthrow, presaged a rapid realignment to follow in the event of victory. Ultimately the kingdom of England is ruled from Westminster not Wensleydale. [28]

And after 1485? How long did it take the north to come to terms with Henry VII? These peers, gentry, ecclesiastics, merchants and even monks of northern England were hard-headed men, practised in the arts of sailing with the political wind. Some undoubtedly kept the cause alive. But they were faced by a determined regime which rapidly placed swingeing bonds on any who so much as thought about supporting any alternative claimant to the throne. [4] There is no doubt that enemies of Henry Tudor did find early support in the region, but it has to be noted that many who had served Richard III as duke and king, men like Thomas Metcalfe of Nappa in Wensleydale, one of the most skilful accountants of his generation, soon prospered under the new order.[8] Richard III himself had been planted in the north in 1471; he had had to win round the political elites in the aftermath of Warwick the Kingmaker's downfall. He had not been then the expected or natural heir. Nor was Henry VII, though he was earl of Richmond. After 1485 provincial life had to move on without him. Richard came and he went.

To some extent the historiography concerning Richard III and the north has come round in a circle, or perhaps more accurately a spiral. Now that the relationship is firmly established in all discussions of his life both as duke and king, in respect of almost every corner of the province and, as it touched almost all social groups, new questions, uncertainties and controversies have been opened up. The fact of the association is established; its significance is now disputed. In particular it does not resolve the fundamental question of how we interpret this whirlwind career.

Heritage and History

Middleham Castle, the ruin is now part of the Heritage industry
Nuances tend to be lost in the popularisation of the history of Richard and the north. Tourist and other organisations are aware that the White Boar is good for business. There is even a successful local brew sold under that name. The particular relationship between man and province has been seized, commodified and sold as part of the heritage industry. The town of Middleham and English Heritage, building on the prominence given to it by successive Ricardians since Caroline Halsted, have capitalised on this by clever marketing. Pilgrims come from far and wide; visitors to the castle were for several years told that it was his 'home'. It is of little matter that the remains of the palatial suites and almost obliterated pleasure grounds we see today, were almost certainly built by the first earl and countess of Westmorland. No great magnate or royal duke in the fifteenth century had a 'home' in the twentieth-century sense of the word. Richard of Gloucester formed no more of a personal attachment to Middleham than he did to Barnard Castle or Pontefract, at both of which surviving records suggest he spent more time. Richard was more frequently in the north, and in particular at Middleham, after the outbreak of war with Scotland in 1479 in which he played a prominent role. Only after his son, Edward of Middleham was established there in the late 1470s in the household of his mother did Middleham become a significant residence and briefly a focal point in his life. It was after 1478 that particular favour was shown to the town and parish as probably the focal point of the intended patrimony of his heir. This personal association came to an abrupt end in 1484/5 with the deaths of first his son and then his queen. But we don't want complexities and uncertainties to spoil a good story: we need to believe that Wensleydale was the native country of his spirit.[2]

Further Reading:

  1. Attreed, L. C., 'The King's Interest: York's Fee farm and the Central Government, 1482-92', Northern History, xvii, 1987.
  2. Booth, P. W., 'Richard Duke of Gloucester and the West March', Northern History, xxxvi, 2000
  3. Buck, Sir George, The History of King Richard III (1619) edited by Arthur N Kincaid,Oxford 1973
  4. Cunningham, S., 'Henry VII and Rebellion in North-Eastern England, 1485-1492', Northern History, xxxii, 1996
  5. Dobson, R. B. ,'Richard Bell, Prior of Durham (1464-78) and Bishop of Carlisle (1478-95)', Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, ns lxv, 1965
  6. Dobson, R. B. 'Richard III and the Church of York' in R. A. Griffiths and J. W. Sherborne, eds, Kings and Nobles in the Later Middle Ages, Gloucester, 1986
  7. Drake, Francis, Eboracum or the History and Antiquities of the City of York, 1736
  8. Dockray, K. R, 'The Political Legacy of Richard III in Northern England', in Griffiths and Sherborne, Kings and Nobles, 1986
  9. Dockray, K. R., 'Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry', in P. W. Hammond, ed. Richard III: Lordship, Loyalty and Law, Gloucester, 1986
  10. Halsted, Caroline, Richard III as Duke of Gloucester and King of England (1844), Gloucester 1977
  11. Hicks, M. A., 'Dynastic Change and Northern Society: the career of the fourth earl of Northumberland, 147-89', Northern History, xiv, 1978
  12. Hicks, M. A. ,'Descent, Partition and Extinction: the Warwick Inheritance', Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, lii, 1979
  13. Hicks, M.A. , Richard III as Duke of Gloucester: a study in character Borthwick Institute, York, 1986
  14. Hicks, M. A., Richard, Duke of Gloucester and the North', in Horrox, ed., Richard III and the North, 1986
  15. Horrox, R. E., ed, Richard III and the North, Hull, 1986
  16. 'Richard III and the east Riding', in Richard III and the North, 1986
  17. Horrox, R. E, Richard III: a study of service, Cambridge 1989
  18. Hughes, J., '"The Ornaments to know a Holy man": Northern Religious Life and Richard III', in A. J. Pollard, ed., The North of England in the Age of Richard III, Stroud, 1996
  19. Hutchinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham, 1817
  20. Jacob, E. F., The fifteenth century (1399-1485), Oxford 1961
  21. Jones, M. K., 'Richard III and the Stanleys', in Horrox, Richard III and the North, 1986
  22. Kendall, Paul Murray, Richard III, London 1955
  23. Lander, J. R., Government and Community: England, 1450-1509, London 1980
  24. Morgan, D. A. L., 'The King's Affinity in the Polity of Yorkist England', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th Series, xxiii, 1973
  25. O'Regan, M., 'Richard III and the Monks of Durham', The Ricardian, iv, 1978
  26. Palliser, D. M., 'Richard III and York, in R. E. Horrox, ed, Richard III and the North, Hull, 1986
  27. Pollard, A. J., 'St Cuthbert and the Hog: Richard III and the county palatine of Durham, 1471-85', in Griffiths and Sherborne, Kings and Nobles.
  28. Pollard, A. J., 'North, South and Richard III', The Ricardian, v, 1981
  29. Pollard, A. J., 'North-Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: Lay Society, War, and Politics, 1450-1500, Oxford, 1990
  30. Pollard, A. J., The Worlds of Richard III (Stroud, 2001)
  31. Ross, Charles, Edward IV, London 1974
  32. Ross, Charles, Richard III, London 1981

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