Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485, at the age of 32, in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, marked the end of the Middle Ages in England. He is the subject of the historical play Richard III by William Shakespeare.
When his brother King Edward IV died in April 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector of the realm for Edward’s son and successor, the 12-year-old Edward V. As the young king travelled to London from Ludlow, Richard met and escorted him to lodgings in the Tower of London, where Edward V’s own brother Richard of Shrewsbury joined him shortly afterwards. Arrangements were made for Edward’s coronation on 22 June 1483; but, before the young king could be crowned, the marriage of his parents was declared invalid, making their children illegitimate and ineligible for the throne. On 25 June, an assembly of Lords and commoners endorsed the declaration, which also proclaimed Richard the rightful king. The following day, Richard III began his reign, and he was crowned on 6 July 1483. The young princes were not seen in public after August, and accusations circulated that the boys had been murdered on Richard’s orders.
There were two major rebellions against Richard. The first, in October 1483, was led by staunch allies of Edward IV and Richard’s former ally, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham; but the revolt collapsed. In August 1485, Henry Tudor and his uncle, Jasper Tudor, led a second rebellion. Henry Tudor landed in southern Wales with a small contingent of French troops and marched through his birthplace, Pembrokeshire, recruiting soldiers. Henry’s force engaged Richard’s army and defeated it at the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. Richard was struck down in the conflict, making him the last English king to die in battle. Henry Tudor then ascended the throne as Henry VII.
After the battle, Richard’s corpse was taken to Leicester and buried without pomp. His original tomb monument is believed to have been removed during the English Reformation, and his remains were lost for more than five centuries, believed to have been thrown into the River Soar. In 2012, an archaeological excavation was commissioned by the Richard III Society on a city council car park on the site once occupied by Greyfriars Priory Church. 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 Richard III’s eldest sister, Anne of York. Richard’s remains were reburied in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015.
Richard was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle, the twelfth of thirteen children of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville at the beginning of what has traditionally been labelled the “Wars of the Roses”, a period of “three or four decades of political instability and periodic open civil war in the second half of the fifteenth century”, between supporters of Richard’s father (a potential claimant to the throne of King Henry VI from birth)—”Yorkists”—in opposition to the regime of Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, and those loyal to the crown (“Lancastrians”). When his father and the Nevilles were forced to flee to Ludlow in 1459, Richard and his older brother George (later Duke of Clarence), were placed in the custody of the Duchess of Buckingham, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
When his father and elder brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460, Richard, who was eight years old, and George were sent by his mother, the Duchess of York, to the Low Countries. They returned to England following the defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton and participated in the coronation of Richard’s eldest brother as King Edward IV in June 1461. At this time Richard was named Duke of Gloucester and made a Knight of the Garter and Knight of the Bath; he was involved in the rough politics of the Wars of the Roses from an early age (for example, Edward appointed him the sole Commissioner of Array for the Western Counties in 1464, when he was eleven). By the age of seventeen, he had an independent command.
Richard spent several years during his childhood at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, under the tutelage of his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (later known as the “Kingmaker” because of his role in the Wars of the Roses), who took care of his knightly training: in autumn 1465 King Edward granted the earl £1000 for the expenses of his younger brother’s tutelage. With some interruptions, Richard stayed at Middleham either from late 1461 until early 1465, when he was twelve or from 1465 until his coming of age in 1468 when he turned sixteen. While at Warwick’s estate, he probably met Francis Lovell, a strong supporter later in his life, and Warwick’s younger daughter, his future wife Anne Neville.
It is possible that even at this early stage Warwick was considering the king’s brothers as strategic matches for his daughters, Isabel and Anne: young aristocrats were often sent to be raised in the households of their intended future partners, as had been the case for the young dukes’ father, Richard of York. As the relationship between the king and Warwick became strained, Edward IV opposed the match. During Warwick’s lifetime, George was the only royal brother to marry one of his daughters, the eldest, Isabel, on 12 July 1469, without the king’s permission. George joined his father-in-law’s revolt against the king, while Richard remained loyal to Edward, even though rumour coupled Richard’s name with Anne Neville until August 1469.
Richard and Edward were forced to flee to Burgundy in October 1470 after Warwick defected to the side of the former Lancastrian queen Margaret of Anjou, and for a second time Richard was forced to seek refuge in the Low Countries, which were part of the realm of the Duchy of Burgundy. In 1468, Richard’s sister Margaret had married Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, and the brothers could expect a welcome there. Although only eighteen years old, Richard played crucial roles in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury that resulted in Edward’s restoration to the throne in spring 1471.
During his adolescence, Richard developed idiopathic scoliosis. In 2014, the osteoarchaeologist Dr Jo Appleby, of Leicester University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, imaged the spinal column and reconstructed a model using 3D printing, and concluded that though the spinal scoliosis looked dramatic, it probably did not cause any major physical deformity that could not be disguised by clothing.
Following a decisive Yorkist victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Tewkesbury, Richard married Anne Neville, the younger daughter of the Earl of Warwick, on 12 July 1472. By the end of 1470 Anne had previously been wedded to Edward of Westminster, only son of Henry VI, to seal her father’s allegiance to the Lancastrian party. Edward died at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May 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 17 February 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, who was still alive (and outlived both her daughters) and was technically the owner of the substantial Beauchamp estates, her own 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 his brother George’s final consent to the marriage, Richard renounced most 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 Clarence the office of Great Chamberlain of England, while he 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 22 April 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. First degree consanguinity applied in the case of Henry VIII and his brother’s widow Catherine of Aragon. In their case the papal dispensation was obtained after Catherine declared the first marriage had not been consummated. In Richard’s case, 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 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 the king planned to put both his younger brothers in their place by acting as “a stifler atween them”.
Early in 1474, Parliament assembled and King 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 Clarence 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. 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 was granted the Duchy of Gloucester on 1 November 1461, and on 12 August the next year was awarded large estates in northern England, including the lordships of Richmond in Yorkshire, and Pembroke in Wales. He gained the forfeited lands of the Lancastrian John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in East Anglia. In 1462, on his birthday, he was made Constable of Gloucester and Corfe Castles and Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine and appointed Governor of the North, becoming the richest and most powerful noble in England. On 17 October 1469, he was made Constable of England. In November, he replaced William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings, as Chief Justice of North Wales. The following year, he was appointed Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales. On 18 May 1471, Richard was named Great Chamberlain and Lord High Admiral of England. Other positions followed: High Sheriff of Cumberland for life, Lieutenant of the North and Commander-in Chief against the Scots and hereditary Warden of the West March. Two months later, on 14 July, he gained the Lordships of the strongholds Sheriff Hutton and Middleham in Yorkshire and Penrith in Cumberland, which had belonged to Warwick the Kingmaker. It is possible that the grant of Middleham seconded Richard’s personal wishes. However, any personal attachment he may have felt to Middleham was likely mitigated in his adulthood, as surviving records demonstrate he spent less time there than at Barnard Castle and Pontefract.
During the latter part of the reign of Edward IV, Richard demonstrated his loyalty, in contrast to their brother George, who had allied himself with Warwick through the 1460s, and threw in his lot with the earl when the latter rebelled at the end of the decade. Following Warwick’s 1470 rebellion, in which he made peace with Margaret of Anjou and promised the restoration of Henry VI to the English throne, Richard, William, Lord Hastings and Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers escaped capture at Doncaster by Warwick’s brother, Lord Montague. On 2 October they sailed from King’s Lynn in two ships; Edward landed at Marsdiep and Richard at Zeeland. It was said that, having left England in such haste as to possess almost nothing, Edward was forced to pay their passage with his fur cloak; certainly Richard borrowed three pounds from Zeeland’s town-bailiff. They were attainted by Warwick’s only Parliament on 26 November. They resided in Bruges with Louis de Gruthuse, who had been the Burgundian Ambassador to Edward’s court, but it was not until Louis XI of France declared war on Burgundy that Charles, Duke of Burgundy, assisted their return, providing, along with the Hanseatic merchants, £20,000, 36 ships and 1200 men. They departed Flushing for England on 11 March 1471. Warwick’s arrest of local sympathisers prevented them from landing in Yorkist East Anglia and on 14 March, after being separated in a storm, their ships ran ashore at Holderness. The town of Hull refused him entry, and Edward gained entry to York by using the same claim as Henry of Bolingbroke had before deposing Richard II in 1399; viz, that he was merely reclaiming the Dukedom of York rather than the crown. It was in Edward’s attempt to regain his throne that Gloucester began to demonstrate his skill as a military commander.
Once Edward had regained the support of Clarence, he mounted a swift and decisive campaign to regain the Crown through combat; it is believed that Richard was his principal lieutenant as some of the king’s earliest support came from members of Richard’s affinity, including Sir James Harrington and Sir William Parr, who brought 600 men-at-arms to them at Doncaster. He may have led the vanguard at the Battle of Barnet, in his first command, on 14 April 1471, where he outflanked the Duke of Exeter’s wing, although the degree to which his command was fundamental may have been exaggerated. That his personal household sustained losses indicates he was in the thick of the fighting. A contemporary source is clear about his holding the vanguard for Edward at Tewkesbury, deployed against the Lancastrian vanguard under the Duke of Somerset on 4 May 1471, and his role two days later, as Constable of England, sitting alongside John Howard as Earl Marshal, in the trial and sentencing of leading Lancastrians captured after the battle.
At least in part resentful of the French king’s previous support of his Lancastrian opponents, and possibly in support of his brother-in-law Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, Edward went to parliament in October 1472 for funding a military campaign, and eventually landed in Calais on 4 July 1475. Gloucester’s was the largest private contingent of his army. Although well known to have publicly been against the eventual treaty signed with Louis XI at Picquigny (and absent from the negotiations, in which one of his rank would have been expected to take a leading role), he acted as Edward’s witness when the king instructed his delegates to the French court, and received ‘some very fine presents’ from Louis on a visit to the French king at Amiens. In refusing other gifts, which included ‘pensions’ in the guise of ‘tribute’, he was joined only by Cardinal Bourchier. He supposedly disapproved of Edward’s policy of personally benefitting—politically and financially—from a campaign paid for out of a parliamentary grant, and hence out of public funds. Any military prowess was therefore not to be revealed further until the last years of Edward’s reign.
Richard controlled the north of England until Edward IV’s death. There, and especially in the city of York, he was highly regarded; although it has been questioned whether this view was reciprocated by Richard. Edward IV set up the Council of the North as an administrative body in 1472 to improve government control and economic prosperity and benefit the whole of Northern England. Kendall and later historians have suggested that this was with the intention of making Richard the Lord of the North; Peter Booth, however, has argued that “instead of allowing his brother the Duke of Gloucester carte blanche, [Edward] restricted his influence by using his own agent, Sir William Parr.” Richard served as its first Lord President from 1472 until his accession to the throne. On his accession, he made his nephew John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, president and formally institutionalised it as an offshoot of the royal Council; all its letters and judgements were issued on behalf of the king and in his name. The council had a budget of 2000 marks per annum (approximately £1320) and had issued “Regulations” by July of that year: councillors to act impartially and declare vested interests, and to meet at least every three months. Its main focus of operations was Yorkshire and the north-east, and its primary responsibilities were land disputes, keeping of the king’s peace, and punishing lawbreakers.
Richard’s increasing role in the north from the mid-1470s to some extent explains his withdrawal from the royal court. He had been Warden of the West March on the Scottish border since 10 September 1470, and again from May 1471; he used Penrith as a base while ‘taking effectual measures’ against the Scots, and ‘enjoyed the revenues of the estates’ of the Forest of Cumberland while doing so. It was at the same time that the duke was appointed sheriff of Cumberland five consecutive years, being described as ‘of Penrith Castle’ in 1478. By 1480, war with Scotland was looming; on 12 May that year he was appointed Lieutenant-General of the North (a position created for the occasion) as fears of a Scottish invasion grew. Louis XI of France had attempted to negotiate a military alliance with Scotland (in the tradition of the “Auld Alliance”), with the aim of attacking England, according to a contemporary French chronicler. Richard had the authority to summon the Border Levies and issue Commissions of Array to repel the Border raids. Together with the Earl of Northumberland he launched counter-raids, and when the king and council formally declared war in November 1480, he was granted £10,000 for wages. The king failed to arrive to lead the English army and the result was intermittent skirmishing until early 1482. Richard witnessed the treaty with Alexander, Duke of Albany, brother of the Scottish king James III. Northumberland, Stanley, Dorset, Sir Edward Woodville, and Richard with approximately 20,000 men took the town of Berwick almost immediately. The castle held until 24 August 1482, when Richard recaptured Berwick-upon-Tweed from the Kingdom of Scotland. Although it is debatable whether the English victory was due more to internal Scottish divisions rather than any outstanding military prowess by Richard, it was the last time that the Royal Burgh of Berwick changed hands between the two realms.
On the death of Edward IV, on 9 April 1483, his twelve-year-old son, Edward V, succeeded him. Richard was named Lord Protector of the Realm and at William Hastings’ urging, Richard assumed his role and left his base in Yorkshire for London. As previously agreed, on 29 April Richard, who was joined on the route by his cousin the Duke of Buckingham, met Queen Elizabeth’s brother Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, at Northampton while he was escorting Edward at the Queen’s request to London with an armed escort of 2000 men while Richard and Buckingham’s joint escort was of 600 men. However, the young king himself had been sent further south to Stony Stratford. At first convivial, Richard had Earl Rivers, his nephew Richard Grey and his associate Thomas Vaughan arrested. They were taken to Pontefract Castle, where they were executed on 25 June on the charge of treason against the Lord Protector after appearing before a tribunal led by Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Rivers appointed Richard as executor of his will.
After having Lord Rivers arrested, the two dukes moved to Stony Stratford where Richard informed the young king of a plot aimed at denying him his role as Protector whose perpetrators had been dealt with. He proceeded to escort the young king to London where they entered on 4 May displaying the carriages of weapons Earl Rivers had taken with his 2000 man army. Richard first accommodated Edward in the Bishop’s apartments, then, on the Duke of Buckingham’s suggestion, in the Royal Apartments of the Tower of London where kings customarily awaited their coronation. On hearing the news of her brother’s arrest on 30 April, the Dowager Queen fled to sanctuary in Westminster Abbey together with her son by her first marriage Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset, her five daughters and her youngest son Richard, Duke of York. On 16 June Elizabeth Woodville agreed to hand over the younger prince to the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he might attend his brother Edward’s coronation, still planned for 22 June.
On 10/11 June Richard wrote to Ralph, Lord Neville, the City of York and others asking for their support against “the Queen, her blood adherents and affinity” whom he suspected of plotting his murder. At a council meeting on 13 June at the Tower of London, Richard accused Hastings and others of having conspired against him with the Woodvilles, with Jane Shore, lover to both Hastings and Thomas Grey, acting as a go-between. According to Thomas More, Hastings was taken out of the Council chambers and summarily executed in the courtyard, while others, like Lord Thomas Stanley and bishop Morton, were arrested. Hastings was not attainted and Richard sealed an indenture that placed Hastings’ widow Katherine directly under his own protection. John Morton, Bishop of Ely, one of those arrested, was released into the custody of Buckingham before the latter’s rebellion.
A clergyman is said to have informed Richard that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid because of Edward’s earlier union with Eleanor Butler, making Edward V and his siblings illegitimate. The identity of the informant is known only through the memoires of French diplomat Philippe de Commines as Robert Stillington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. On 22 June 1483, a sermon was preached outside Old St. Paul’s Cathedral declaring Edward’s children bastards and Richard the rightful king. Shortly after, the citizens of London, both nobles and commons, convened and drew up a petition asking Richard to assume the throne. He accepted on 26 June and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 July 1483. His title to the throne was confirmed by Parliament in January 1484 by the document Titulus Regius.
The princes, who were still lodged in the Royal Residence of the Tower of London at the time of Richard’s coronation, disappeared from sight after the summer of 1483. Although Richard III has been accused of having Edward and his brother killed, there is debate about their actual fate.
After the coronation ceremony, Richard and Anne set out on a royal progress to meet their subjects. During this journey through the country the King and Queen endowed King’s College and Queens’ College at Cambridge University, and made grants to the church. Still feeling a strong bond with his northern estates, Richard later planned the establishment of a large chantry chapel in York Minster, with over one hundred priests. Richard also founded the College of Arms.
In 1483, a conspiracy arose among a number of disaffected gentry, many of whom had been supporters of Edward IV and the “whole Yorkist establishment”. The conspiracy was nominally led by Richard’s former ally and first cousin once removed Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, although it had begun as a Woodville-Beaufort conspiracy (being “well under way” by the time of the duke’s involvement). Indeed, Davies has suggested that it was “only the subsequent parliamentary attainder that placed Buckingham at the centre of events”, in order to blame a single disaffected magnate motivated by greed, rather than “the embarrassing truth” that those opposing Richard were actually “overwhelmingly Edwardian loyalists”. It is possible that they planned to depose Richard III and place Edward V back on the throne, and that when rumours arose that Edward and his brother were dead, Buckingham proposed that Henry Tudor should return from exile, take the throne and marry Elizabeth of York, elder sister of the Tower Princes. 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”. For his part, Buckingham raised a substantial force from his estates in Wales and the Marches. Henry, in exile in Brittany, enjoyed the support of the Breton treasurer Pierre Landais, who hoped Buckingham’s victory would cement an alliance between Brittany and England.
Some of Henry Tudor’s ships ran into a storm and were forced to return to Brittany or Normandy, while Henry himself anchored off Plymouth for a week before learning of Buckingham’s failure. Buckingham’s army was troubled by the same storm and deserted when Richard’s forces came against them. Buckingham tried to escape in disguise, but was either turned in by a retainer for the bounty Richard had put on his head, or was discovered in hiding with him. He was convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury, near the Bull’s Head Inn, on 2 November. His widow, Catherine Woodville, later married Jasper Tudor, the uncle of Henry Tudor, who was in the process of organising another rebellion.
Richard made overtures to Landais, offering military support for Landais’s weak regime under Duke Francis II of Brittany in exchange for Henry. Henry fled to Paris, where he secured support from the French regent Anne of Beaujeu, who supplied troops for an invasion in 1485. The French government, recalling Richard’s effective disowning of the Treaty of Picquigny and refusal to accept the accompanying French pension, would not have welcomed the accession of one known to be unfriendly to France.
On 22 August 1485, Richard met the outnumbered forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard rode a white courser. The size of Richard’s army has been estimated at 8,000, Henry’s at 5,000, but exact numbers are not known; all that can be said is that the Royal army ‘substantially’ outnumbered Tudor’s. The traditional view of the king’s famous cries of “Treason!” before falling was that during the battle Richard was abandoned by Lord Stanley (made Earl of Derby in October), Sir William Stanley, and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. However, the role of Northumberland is unclear; his position was with the reserve—behind the king’s line—and he could not easily have moved forward without a general royal advance, which did not take place. Indeed, the physical confines behind the crest of Ambion Hill, combined with a difficulty of communications, probably physically hampered any attempt he made to join the fray. Despite appearing “a pillar of the Ricardian regime”, and his previous loyalty to Edward IV, Lord Stanley’s wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was Henry Tudor’s mother, and Stanley’s inaction, combined with his brother’s entering the battle on Tudor’s behalf was fundamental to Richard’s defeat. The death of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his close companion, may have had a demoralising effect on Richard and his men. Either way, Richard led a cavalry charge deep into the enemy ranks in an attempt to end the battle quickly by striking at Henry Tudor himself.
Accounts note that King Richard fought bravely and ably during this manoeuvre, unhorsing Sir John Cheyne, a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry’s standard bearer Sir William Brandon and coming within a sword’s length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed. The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd while Richard’s horse was stuck in the marshy ground. It was said that the blows were so violent that the king’s helmet was driven into his skull. The contemporary Welsh poet Guto’r Glyn implies a leading Welsh Lancastrian Rhys ap Thomas, or one of his men, killed the king, writing that he “killed the boar, shaved his head”. The identification in 2013 of King Richard’s body shows that the skeleton had 11 wounds, eight of them to the skull, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had lost his helmet. Professor Guy Rutty, from the University of Leicester, said: “The most likely injuries to have caused the king’s death are the two to the inferior aspect of the skull—a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon.” The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull. Richard III was the last English king to be killed in battle.
Polydore Vergil, Henry Tudor’s official historian, recorded that “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”. Richard’s naked body was then carried back to Leicester tied to a horse, and early sources strongly suggest that it was displayed in the collegiate Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke, prior to being buried at Greyfriars Church in Leicester. In 1495, Henry VII paid £50 for a marble and alabaster monument. According to a discredited tradition, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, his body was thrown into the River Soar, although other evidence suggests that a memorial stone was visible in 1612, in a garden built on the site of Greyfriars. The exact location was then lost, owing to more than 400 years of subsequent development, until archaeological investigations in 2012 revealed the site of the garden and Greyfriars church. There was a memorial ledger stone in the choir of the cathedral, since replaced by the tomb of the king, and a stone plaque on Bow Bridge where tradition had falsely suggested that his remains had been thrown into the river.
According to another tradition, Richard consulted a seer in Leicester before the battle who foretold that “where your spur should strike on the ride into battle, your head shall be broken on the return”. On the ride into battle, his spur struck the bridge stone of Bow Bridge in the city; legend states that as his corpse was carried from the battle over the back of a horse, his head struck the same stone and was broken open.
Henry Tudor succeeded Richard to become Henry VII and sought to cement the succession by marrying the Yorkist heiress Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter and Richard III’s niece.
Richard and Anne had one son, born between 1474 and 1476, Edward of Middleham, who was created Earl of Salisbury on 15 February 1478. He died in April 1484, after being created Prince of Wales on 8 September the previous year, and only two months after formally being declared heir apparent. Richard also had two acknowledged illegitimate children: John of Gloucester (also known as “John of Pontefract”), who was appointed Captain of Calais in 1485, and Katherine Plantagenet who married William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, in 1484. Neither their birth dates nor the names of their mothers are documented, but since Katherine was old enough to be wedded in 1484 (age of consent was 12) and John was old enough to be knighted in September 1483 in York Minster (when his half brother Edward, Richard’s only legitimate heir, was invested Prince of Wales) and to be made Captain of Calais in March 1485, most historians agree that they were fathered during Richard’s teen years. There is no trace of infidelity on Richard’s part after his marriage to Anne Neville in 1472, when he was around 20, hence the suggestion by A.L. Rowse that Gloucester ‘had no interest in sex.’
Michael Hicks and Josephine Wilkinson have suggested that Katherine’s mother may have been Katherine Haute, on the basis of the grant of an annual payment of 100 shillings made to her in 1477. The Haute family was related to the Woodvilles through the marriage of Elizabeth Woodville’s aunt, Joan Woodville, to Sir William Haute. One of their children was Richard Haute, Controller of the Prince’s Household. Their daughter, Alice, married Sir John Fogge; they were ancestors to queen consort Catherine Parr, sixth wife of King Henry VIII. They also suggest that John’s mother may have been Alice Burgh. Richard visited Pontefract from 1471, in April and October 1473, and in early March 1474, for a week. On 1 March 1474, he granted Alice Burgh £20 a year for life “for certain special causes and considerations”. She later received another allowance, apparently for being engaged as nurse for Clarence’s son, Edward of Warwick. Richard continued her annuity when he became king. John Ashdown-Hill has suggested that John was conceived during Richard’s first solo expedition to the eastern counties in the summer of 1467 at the invitation of John Howard and that the boy was born in 1468 and named after his friend and supporter. Richard himself noted John was still a minor (not being yet 21) when he issued the royal patent appointing him Captain of Calais on 11 March 1485, possibly on his seventeenth birthday.
Both of Richard’s illegitimate children survived him, but they seem to have died without issue and their fate after Richard’s demise at Bosworth is not certain. John received a £20 annuity from Henry VII, but there are no mentions of him in contemporary records after 1487 (the year of the Battle of Stoke Field). He may have been executed in 1499, though no record of this exists beyond an assertion by George Buck over a century later. Katherine apparently died before her cousin Elizabeth of York’s coronation on 25 November 1487, since her husband Sir William Herbert is described as a widower by that time. Katherine’s burial place was located in the London parish church of St James Garlickhithe, between Skinner’s Lane and Upper Thames Street. The mysterious Richard Plantagenet, who was first mentioned in Francis Peck’s Desiderata Curiosa (a two-volume miscellany published 1732–1735) was said to be a possible illegitimate child of Richard III and is sometimes referred to as “Richard the Master-Builder” or “Richard of Eastwell”, but it has also been suggested he could have been Richard, Duke of York, one of the missing Princes in the Tower. He died in 1550.
At the time of his last stand against the Lancastrians, Richard was a widower without a legitimate son. After his son’s death, he had initially named his nephew Edward, Earl of Warwick, Clarence’s young son and the nephew of Queen Anne Neville, as his heir. After Anne’s death, however, Richard named another nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, the son of his elder sister Elizabeth. However, he was also negotiating with John II of Portugal to marry his sister, Joanna, a pious young woman who had already turned down several suitors because of her preference for the religious life.