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From the Emperor’s Desk: I would like to get back to the series on examining who was or was not a usurper to the English or British throne. The next person to focus on is King Richard III. This should be a no-brainer because he is famously known for usurping the throne from his 12-year-old nephew. However, I would like to focus on some evidence and information that may cast a little doubt on this. First I would like to provide a little background information on Richard.

Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22,1485) was King of England from June 26, 1483 until his death in 1485. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, marked the end of the Middle Ages in England.

Richard was born on October 2, 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the eleventh of the twelve children of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the youngest to survive infancy.

King Richard III of England and Lord of Ireland

Like his father and brother, King Edward IV, Richard was born with a strong claim to the throne. Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York (also named Richard Plantagenet) was a leading English magnate and claimant to the throne during the Wars of the Roses. He was a member of the ruling House of Plantagenet by virtue of being a direct male-line descendant of Edmund of Langley, King Edward III’s fourth surviving son.

However, it was through his mother, Anne Mortimer, a descendant of Edward III’s second surviving son, Lionel of Antwerp, that Richard inherited his strongest claim to the throne, as the opposing House of Lancaster was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third surviving son of Edward III.

Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, also strengthened the House of York’s claim to the English throne. Cecily Neville was the youngest of the 22 children of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, in this case born to his second wife Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland.

Her paternal grandparents were John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby, and Maud Percy, daughter of Henry de Percy, 2nd Baron Percy. Her maternal grandparents were John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and his third wife Katherine Swynford. John of Gaunt was the third surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault

The future King Richard III’s childhood coincided with the beginning of the ‘Wars of the Roses’, a period of political instability and periodic open civil war in England during the second half of the fifteenth century, between the Yorkists, who supported Richard’s father (a potential claimant to the throne of King Henry VI from birth), and opposed the regime of Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, and the Lancastrians, who were loyal to the crown.

Crown of Richard III (made for his funeral)

In 1459, his father and the Yorkists were forced to flee England, whereupon Richard and his older brother George were placed in the custody of their aunt Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham, and possibly of Cardinal Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury.

His eldest brother Edward inherited the Yorkist claim when his father, Richard, Duke of York, died at the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460. After defeating Lancastrian armies at Mortimer’s Cross and Towton in early 1461, Edward deposed King Henry VI and took the throne as King Edward IV of England.

His marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464 led to conflict with his chief advisor, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known as the “Kingmaker”. In 1470, a revolt led by Warwick and Edward’s brother George, Duke of Clarence, briefly re-installed Henry VI.

When their father and elder brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the Battle of Wakefield, Richard and George were sent by their mother to the Low Countries. They returned to England following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton.

Richard and George participated in the coronation of their eldest brother King Edward IV on June 28, 1461, when Richard was named Duke of Gloucester and made both a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath. Edward appointed him the sole Commissioner of Array for the Western Counties in 1464 when he was 11. By the age of 17, he had an independent command.

Richard married Anne Neville on July 12, 1472. Anne had previously been wedded to Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales and only son of Henry VI, to seal her father’s allegiance to the Lancastrian party, Edward died at the Battle of Tewkesbury on May 4, 1471, while Warwick had died at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471.

Richard’s marriage plans brought him into conflict with his brother George. John Paston’s letter of February 17, 1472 makes it clear that George was not happy about the marriage but grudgingly accepted it on the basis that “he may well have my Lady his sister-in-law, but they shall part no livelihood”.

The reason for George not supporting the marriage was the inheritance Anne shared with her elder sister Isabel, whom George had married in 1469. It was not only the earldom of Warwick that was at stake; Richard Neville had inherited it as a result of his marriage to Anne Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick. The Countess, who was still alive, was technically the owner of the substantial Beauchamp estates, her father having left no male heirs.

The Croyland Chronicle records that Richard agreed to a prenuptial contract in the following terms: “the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester with Anne before-named was to take place, and he was to have such and so much of the earl’s lands as should be agreed upon between them through the mediation of arbitrators; while all the rest were to remain in the possession of the Duke of Clarence”.

The date of Paston’s letter suggests the marriage was still being negotiated in February 1472. In order to win George’s final consent to the marriage, Richard renounced most of the Earl of Warwick’s land and property including the earldoms of Warwick (which the Kingmaker had held in his wife’s right) and Salisbury and surrendered to George the office of Great Chamberlain of England. Richard retained Neville’s forfeit estates he had already been granted in the summer of 1471: Penrith, Sheriff Hutton and Middleham, where he later established his marital household.

Michael Hicks has suggested that the terms of the dispensation deliberately understated the degrees of consanguinity between the couple, and the marriage was therefore illegal on the ground of first degree consanguinity following George’s marriage to Anne’s sister Isabel.

There would have been first-degree consanguinity if Richard had sought to marry Isabel (in case of widowhood) after she had married his brother George, but no such consanguinity applied for Anne and Richard. Richard’s marriage to Anne was never declared null, and it was public to everyone including secular and canon lawyers for 13 years.

In 1482, King Edward IV backed an attempt to usurp the Scottish throne by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of James III of Scotland. Gloucester invaded Scotland and took the town of Edinburgh, but not the far more formidable castle, where James was being held by his own nobles. Albany switched sides and without siege equipment, the English army was forced to withdraw, with little to show for an expensive campaign, apart from the capture of Berwick Castle.

Edward’s health began to fail, and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments; his physicians attributed this in part to a habitual use of emetics, which allowed him to gorge himself at meals, then return after vomiting to start again. He fell fatally ill at Easter 1483, but survived long enough to add codicils to his will, the most important naming his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as Protector after his death. King Edward IV died on April 9, 1483 and was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. His twelve-year-old son succeeded him as King Edward V of England and Lord of Ireland.