Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22, 1485) was King of England and Lord of Ireland 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 2 October 1452, at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the eleventh of the twelve children of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the youngest to survive infancy. His childhood coincided with the beginning of what has traditionally been labelled 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.
Richard was created Duke of Gloucester in 1461 after the accession of his brother King Edward IV.
Following a decisive Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Richard married Anne Neville on July 12, 1472. Anne Neville (June 11, 1456 – March 16, 1485) and she had a connection to the Royal Family as a descendant of King Edward III.
Anne Neville was the daughter of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (the “Kingmaker”) and Anne Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick, (1426 – 1492). Anne Beauchamp was the daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and his second wife Isabel le Despenser, who was a daughter of Thomas le Despenser and Constance of York.
Constance of York, Countess of Gloucester (c. 1375 – 1416) was the only daughter of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, and his wife Infanta Isabella of Castile, daughter of King Pedro of Castile and his favourite mistress, María de Padilla.
Constance of York’s father, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, KG (5 June 1341 – 1 August 1402) was the fourth surviving son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault.
Anne of Warwick had previously been wedded to Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales only son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, the second eldest daughter of René, King of Naples, and Isabella, Duchess of Lorraine.
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 was the inheritance Anne shared with her elder sister Isabel, whom George had married in 1469. It was not only the earldom 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.
The requisite papal dispensation was obtained dated April 22, 1472. 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 June 1473, Richard persuaded his mother-in-law to leave the sanctuary and come to live under his protection at Middleham. Later in the year, under the terms of the 1473 Act of Resumption, George lost some of the property he held under royal grant and made no secret of his displeasure. John Paston’s letter of November 1473 says that King Edward IV planned to put both his younger brothers in their place by acting as “a stifler atween them”.
Early in 1474, Parliament assembled and Edward attempted to reconcile his brothers by stating that both men, and their wives, would enjoy the Warwick inheritance just as if the Countess of Warwick “was naturally dead”. The doubts cast by George on the validity of Richard and Anne’s marriage were addressed by a clause protecting their rights in the event they were divorced (i.e. of their marriage being declared null and void by the Church) and then legally remarried to each other, and also protected Richard’s rights while waiting for such a valid second marriage with Anne.
The following year, Richard was rewarded with all the Neville lands in the north of England, at the expense of Anne’s cousin, George Neville, 1st Duke of Bedford. From this point, George seems to have fallen steadily out of King Edward’s favour, his discontent coming to a head in 1477 when, following Isabel’s death, he was denied the opportunity to marry Mary of Burgundy, the stepdaughter of his sister Margaret, even though Margaret approved the proposed match. There is no evidence of Richard’s involvement in George’s subsequent conviction and execution on a charge of treason.
Richard governed northern England during Edward IV’s reign, and played a role in the invasion of Scotland in 1482. When Edward IV died in April 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector of the realm for Edward’s eldest son and successor, the 12-year-old King Edward V. Arrangements were made for Edward V’s coronation on June 22, 1483.
Before the young king could be crowned, the marriage of his parents was declared bigamous and therefore invalid. Now officially illegitimate, their children, the young King Edward V and his brother Richard, of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, were barred from inheriting the throne.
On June 25, an assembly of lords and commoners endorsed a declaration to this effect, and proclaimed Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as the rightful king. He was crowned on July 6, 1483. Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, called the “Princes in the Tower”, were not seen in public after August, and accusations circulated that they had been murdered on King Richard’s orders.
There were two major rebellions against Richard III during his reign. In October 1483, an unsuccessful revolt was led by staunch allies of Edward IV and Richard’s former ally, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. It is possible that they planned to depose Richard III and place Edward V back on the throne, and when rumours arose that Edward and his brother were dead, Buckingham proposed that Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, should return from exile, take the throne and marry Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV. However, it has also been pointed out that as this narrative stems from Richard’s own parliament of 1484, it should probably be treated “with caution”.
Then, in August 1485, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, landed in southern Wales with a contingent of French troops, and marched through Pembrokeshire, recruiting soldiers. Henry’s forces defeated Richard’s army near the Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth. Richard was slain, making him the last English king to die in battle. Henry Tudor then ascended the throne as Henry VII.
Richard’s corpse was taken to the nearby town of Leicester and buried without ceremony. His original tomb monument is believed to have been removed during the English Reformation, and his remains were wrongly thought to have been thrown into the River Soar.
In 2012, an archaeological excavation was commissioned by the Richard III Society on the site previously occupied by Grey Friars Priory. The University of Leicester identified the skeleton found in the excavation as that of Richard III as a result of radiocarbon dating, comparison with contemporary reports of his appearance, and comparison of his mitochondrial DNA with that of two matrilineal descendants of his sister Anne. He was reburied in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, 2015.