Bosworth Field, Craniofacial Identification, Dr Richard Buckley, Fotheringhay, Horace Walpole, Jane Austen, Josephine Tey, Julian Humphrys, Princes in the Tower, Richard III, Richardians, Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More, The Daughter of Time, The Wars of the Roses, Tudors, Winston Churchill
Towards the end of August, my husband and I finally took a trip originally booked just before the Covid crisis. This was an organised three-day tour centered around the discovery of Richard III’s remains in a Leicester car park and included one lecture by medieval historian Julian Humphrys, on The Wars of the Roses, plus another by the archaeologist heading the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, entitled: ‘The King Under the Carpark – Greyfrirs, Leicester and the Search for Richard III. It also included guided visits to the impressive Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester, to the Bosworth battlefield, and to the site of Fotheringhay, where Richard was born. It was a fascinating experience.
Richard is one of England’s most notorious kings and his death at Bosworth in 1485 – the last English king to die in battle – heralded not only the start of the Tudor dynasty but a still-continuing dispute about whether he had murdered the two young princes in the Tower.
Hundreds of words have been written on the subject, from those of Sir Thomas More, to Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the life and Reign of Richard III, to Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time, where a modern police officer undertakes a ‘cold case’ investigation into Richard’s alleged crimes. As someone interested in character and motivation I, too, have struggled to understand how a deeply pious man – apparently devoted to his older brother, Edward, and entrusted by him with the safeguarding of his sons after his death, could change in the space of months into a child murderer.
Despite having what we now know to be scoliosis, that Richard was both a brave man and a skilled fighter is never questioned. From his teens onward, he was in the forefront of three significant battles and at Bosworth charged Henry Tudor’s position, brought down his standard bearer and killed the six-foot-eight John Cheyne standing between him and the man taking arms against him. Had his horse not been brought down, he might have triumphed.
Richard was respected in the North and forward-thinking in laws he introduced. He refused monetary gifts when making his royal progress, saying he would prefer to have the people’s love. Although he had two acknowledged illegitimate children, he was not a womaniser like his brother Edward, to whom he had shown nothing but loyalty and devotion throughout his life. So why did things change after Edward’s death?
Some questions, like the whereabouts of Richard’s grave, have at least been answered. Others, like the fate of the two princes, remain a mystery. There is evidence that Richard was far from the villain painted by Shakespeare and that ‘facts’ to his detriment provided by Sir Thomas More are questionable. Yet it is also true that Richard seized the throne for himself shortly after his brother’s death and that his two nephews went missing while under his protection. But were they murdered? And, if so, by whom? One imagines that Henry VII would have made strenuous efforts to find out what happened to those boys (his wife’s brothers, after all) and would have relished the opportunity to provide proof not only of Richard’s guilt, but of his unfitness to be England’s king. Perhaps none could be found. Had the boys still lived, of course, they would have been an embarrassment to Henry and provided Yorkist sympathisers with a rallying point. Perhaps at least one of them survived, but needed to lead a discreet existence out of the public eye..
I would like to think the truth will one day come out. Until then, like Jane Austen and Winston Churchill, we must all agree to disagree.
Please note that I am a writer, rather than a historian, and the above ramblings are largely my own…