Richard III (1452-1485), king of England (1483-1485) was the youngest brother of king Edward IV, created Duke of Gloucester at his coronation in 1461, and fiercely loyal to him during the events of 1470-71, accompanying Edward to Flanders during the ascendency of Margaret of Anjou and Richard Neville then commanding his vanguard at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury - victories which finally extinguished the Lancastrian cause, led to the death of Henry VI and confirmed Edward on the throne.
He was rewarded for these teenage efforts with the hand of Neville’s daughter, Anne, and control of the vast Neville estates in northern England. He is credited with efficient governance of this traditionally turbulent area, and a successful campaign against the Scots during 1480-1482 leading to the capture of Berwick which is part of England to this day.
Edward IV died suddenly in 1483, leaving as heir the twelve-year-old Edward, Prince of Wales. Plans were immediately made for the boy to be proclaimed king under the control of his mother’s family, led by his uncle, Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, Edward’s governor.
Richard organised for the uncrowned king to be kidnapped on the way to London for the proclamation, Earl Rivers seized and executed, Woodville supporters arrested or killed, and himself named Protector. Edward, now in the Tower of London, was joined by his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. A parliament was called which questioned the legitimacy of the princes and Richard was proclaimed king as Richard III. The princes were never seen again.
After quashing a major rebellion later in the year, things seemed to settle down, with a compliant parliament in 1484 and a series of statutes that, whilst strengthening Richard’s hold on power, were also of benefit to the realm. His powerful army kept the barons in check. However, his enemies’ whispering campaign about his possible direct involvement in the disappearance (murder?) of the “princes in the Tower” (and even rumours that he personally executed the young son of Henry VI after the battle of Tewkesbury, and did to death Henry himself in the Tower, a few weeks later) began to wear away at his popularity.
Focus for his overthrow centred on the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, whose claim to the throne was shaky at best, but had the backing of the Welsh, growing support in England, and was possessed of qualities of leadership and political skills that would see his prevail now and in the future. Henry landed in Wales on 7th of August 1485. The two sides met at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire on 22nd of August, and, although enjoying initial superiority in numbers, the decision of a key supporter to change sides in mid-battle gave the advantage to Henry and Richard died leading an assault on Henry’s position. His death ended the Plantagenet dynasty. Henry assumed the throne as the Tudor Henry VII.
Much of posterity has not been kind to Richard III. The Tudor propaganda machine, already active during his short reign was relentless in depicting him as a murderous and misshapen villain. This was to culminate in Shakespeare’s depiction of him, over 120 years after his death, as the evil hunchback. (Contemporary accounts describe him as slight and not particularly tall with one shoulder higher than the other, but there is no mention of deformity.) There can be no doubt of his ruthlessness, but taken within the context of the age, the executions of Earl Rivers and others he considered dangerous to his cause are not out of the ordinary. There is no evidence that he ordered the deaths of the Princes in the Tower, although it must be considered as a possibility. The earlier death of Henry VI, even if he can be blamed (and there is no evidence at all for his involvement) has a precedent in the usurpation and murder of Richard II in 1400, events that paved the way in the minds of men for subsequent villainy.
After the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard’s body was brought to Grey Friars Abbey in Leicester and buried in an unobtrusive tomb beneath an important part of the church. During Henry VIII’s “Dissolution of the Monasteries”, the abbey was destroyed and the site levelled. In due course it became one of the ubiquities of the 20th/21st centuries - a parking lot.
During the summer of 2012 a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester began digging up the carpark. In the second week of September they found the body of a man meeting all the requirements for identification as Richard – age, battle wounds, size, curvature of the spine, location within the church according to contemporary records.
Certainty will come with the DNA results in about 12 weeks.