The discovery of the bones in Leicester, England, of King Richard III has sparked an interest in that time of history. Unfortunately, many people take it as gospel that Richard was a monster “who slaughtered his own nephews, among many others ...” (Times Argus editorial, “The son of York,” Feb. 7). That idea has been fostered by Shakespeare and others who took their material from papers left by Sir Thomas Moore. However, Moore was only 5 years old when Richard became king in 1483. Moore got his information from one of Richard’s bitter enemies, John Morton, who prospered greatly in the reign of Henry VII.
Historians have recorded the facts. After Richard’s well-loved brother King Edward IV died suddenly, Richard was expecting to be regent to Edward’s young son as was cited in Edward’s will. However, one Bishop Stillington came forward and announced under oath to the ruling council of the day that he had married Edward IV to Lady Eleanor Butler, and they were still married when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the two princes, thus making those boys and their five sisters illegitimate and not heirs to the crown. The matter was put to Parliament, which declared Richard the rightful king. He had no need to kill his nephews, or anyone else.
There were conspirators, of course, who would do better under a different rule. Henry Tudor (Henry VII) was the “great-grandson of an illegitimate son of a younger son of a king” (Josephine Tey in “The Daughter of Time”). Henry VII was successful in defeating Richard at the battle of Bosworth Field. Shortly after declaring himself king, Henry married one of Edward IV’s daughters, Elizabeth (grandmother to her namesake Elizabeth I). To make his descendants legitimate heirs of the throne, Henry rescinded Parliament’s decree concerning Elizabeth’s disinheritance. Unfortunately for them, it also made her brothers the rightful heirs to the crown. They had to go, but mysteriously. Morton did a masterful job of putting the blame for their deaths, and many other atrocities, on the now-dead Richard.
There is a Richard III Society which has “been working ... to secure a more balanced assessment of the king and to support research into his life and times.”... The recent Greyfriars excavation has raised the king’s profile and provided us with new opportunities to make the case for ‘Good King Richard’” (website of the Richard III Society).
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