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Richard III – Myth or Monster, Saint or Sinner

Although one of our more controversial monarchs, Richard III has been ill-served by history. On the basis of very little evidence, he has been portrayed as a child-killing monster who waded in blood to a throne that wasn’t his to take, but the facts show that relatively little blood was shed as Richard of Gloucester assumed the crown. Far less was shed during his reign than ever was to flow during the reigns of his successors.

For over ninety years, the Richard III Society has sought to investigate the life of Richard III, using contemporary documentation wherever possible, stripping away the myth and innuendo that has accrued to his reputation.

Richard III was no saint but he was, in many ways, an enlightened monarch. The achievements of his short reign were

King Richard III is one of our more controversial monarch's. But was he a saint or a sinner?

King Richard III is one of our more controversial monarchs. But was he a saint or a sinner?

real and had lasting impact. His legal reforms continued long after his death, with some still to be found in our laws today. He developed early forms of bail and of legal aid, providing support for those unable to afford lawyers, allowing people to make direct petitions to the Royal Council.

He was the first king to use English to swear his coronation oath and to record acts of parliament. He was committed to fair play in the judicial system, his actions and proclamations stressed that his laws were to be administered impartially without delay or favour. His only parliament, in January 1484, is noted for its enlightened legislation which helped the lower classes as much as the gentry and merchants. He did much to encourage and promote the early book trade.

Of course, none of this disguises the so-called ‘elephant in the room’, the disappearance of the sons of Edward IV, the Princes in the Tower. No-one knows with certainty what happened to them in the autumn of 1483, though many suggestions have been made.

No-one doubts that Richard III had a motive to order their deaths but it would have been against all that we know of Richard’s loyalty to his brother. Besides, he had had them declared bastards and no longer able to claim the throne. If they were dead, why did Richard not display the bodies, saying that they had died of ‘a fever’ and that there was no point in an uprising against him in Edward V’s name?

Also, if she knew or thought they were dead by Richard’s order, why was the boys’ mother reconciled to her brother-in-law? There had been little love lost between them previously.

Others wanted the boys dead and many names have been suggested – Buckingham, Henry VII, his mother, Margaret Beaufort, to mention but three. However, there is no proof as yet that the boys died whilst in the Tower. They could have been smuggled out one night and taken to live somewhere in obscurity, possibly in the north of England or abroad with their aunt, the Duchess of Burgundy. Was Perkin Warbeck really Richard of York, the younger prince? We may never know.

The life, motives and so-called ‘crimes’ of Richard III will always be fascinating topics for discussion and many more papers are likely to be written before the truth is known – if it ever is. In the meantime, the Richard III Society will continue to promote research and to investigate the life of this controversial king, ever seeking the truth, whatever that may be.

With thanks to Dr Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society, for taking the time to contribute to Royal Central.

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Featured Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds