England, Henry II of England, King Richard III of England, Kings and Queens of England, kings and queens of the United Kingdom, Leicester, Plantagenet, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Richard III Society, The College of Arms, Tudor, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral, Windsor Castle
For a king that only ruled England for 2 years Richard III is a very interesting character. He has been in the news a lot recently due to unearthing his skeleton in a parking lot in Leicester, but there has always been a fascination with him among royal enthusiasts and historians. My next entry in the Legal Succession series will examine his mounting the throne of England in 1483. Today I want to take a look at the issues that surround the life of this controversial king.
Richard III was the last Plantagenet king when he died on the battlefield. The dynasty began with King Henry II in 1154 and was England’s longest-serving dynasty. He was replaced by the Tudor dynasty, and as we shall see the Tudor family only had a slim claim to the throne. because the Tudor’s had such a tenuous claim to the English throne they spread a great deal of negative propaganda toward the king they defeated when they took the throne.
Much of what many people know about Richard III comes not from the pens of historians but from the pen of a playwriter, William Shakespeare, who, writing under the watchful eye of Elizabeth I, England’s last Tudor monarch, depicted Richard in a very unfavorable light. We also have the Richard III Society, a group that has existed now for over 90 years that has aimed at a re-assessment of King Richard’s character.
Having studied Richard III myself I must admit he remains a bit of an enigma due to some unresolved issues. Was he a usurper? Did he illegally take the throne from his nephew, King Edward V? Did he have Edward V and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, murdered in the Tower of London? Or were these young princes murdered on the orders of Henry VII who wanted to rid England of any Plantagenet that may be a threat to his throne? Did Richard III, as Duke of Gloucester, murder King Henry VI?
Those are the question that have not been answered. What has been lost to history are the accomplishments of the king. He seems to have been a very able administrator. The Council of the North, established by his brother, Edward IV in 1472, brought economic strength to the commoners of Northern England. Richard III is said to have been instrumental in establishing a court of requests where grievances could be heard by the poor who could not afford a lawyer. He also introduced the concept of bail to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during the period they awaited trial.
By Royal Charter Richard III founded the The College of Arms or Herald’s College removed the restrictions on printing books and had laws translated from French into English for the common man to understand.
I think when re-evaluating any historical figure hopefully one strives for balance. I do not think Richard III was the monster of Tudor propaganda nor am I ready to canonize him as a saint. I think he was a monarch of his times capable of great achievements along with violence and cruelty when deemed necessary.
As the future burial of his remains are being planned I just want to comment on the attitude from Buckingham Palace on the entire ordeal. It has pretty much remained silent. There seems to be a storm brewing over the remains of the last Plantagenet king. The Towns of both York and Leicester are fighting over where he should be buried. Some members of Parliament desire that Richard III be buried at Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle with other monarchs. However, since Richard was a Catholic king, many feel he should be interned in the grand Catholic Westminster Cathedral in central London. Despite the attempts to rehabilitate the kings image he is still viewed as a usurper and the one who had the two Princess in the Tower murdered. Although I know many would love to see Elizabeth II attend an elaborate ceremony of the re-burial of an English king, with all of the controversy surrounding the situation, I cannot blame her for keeping a distance.