Much debate and controversy surround the rise and fall of Richard the Third. It is hard to ignore such subjects due to the bonds and hidden reasons that many of the authors of the middle ages had towards Richard. In keeping an objective approach towards Richard III, the study of his rise and fall will be taken in the perspective of his royal acts and administration of England. Public sentiment over such things as the scandal surrounding the princes did have an effect over the rule of Richard, but there are many other underlying aspects that could have extended Richards rule, and changed the way history looks back on him.
Many historian look upon Richard as a villain. Others attribute this view as tainted due to the perverse nature of England following his reign, and the need for support of Henry Tudor’s ascension to the throne. One aspect that almost all of the historian agree with is that Richard did have some moments where his actions were for the better of England. Looking at such actions can shed light on the true characteristics of his rule, and that he quite may have been a beneficial part of English history. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was the brother of King Edward IV of the House of York.
The House of York had been in control of the throne of England for some time now, but with the entry of the Woodvilles, was in somewhat of a decline. Elizabeth Woodville, now queen to Edward, was thought of surrounded by sorcery, influencing Edward to the bidding of the Woodvilles and their rise to power. Edward’s eldest son was in the primary care of the Woodvilles at the time of Edward’s death, and had become very attached to influential lords in the family. These included his uncles, Rivers and Grey. They were rising lords who sought to control the young heir and supplant the House of York of their control of the throne.
Thus enters Richard. Richard was named protector of the prince and the country in Edwards will because Edward was in his minority. The new king would then take control of the country when he came of majority. This was commonplace in English history, even to the extreme of having infants play the part. Why was the Duke of Gloucester, Richard, so disturbed by this occurrence? Richard and many others in the family were afraid of the Woodville’s influence over Edward once he came to majority. With this in mind, Richard began to plan for his rise to power in order to stop such atrocities.
In order to continue the House of York’s dynast at the throne, Buckingham and Gloucester seize Rivers, Grey and other advisors as they are marching to England to coronate Edward as the new king. They had news that the Woodvilles were conspiring against Gloucester in order to take control of England immediately. While parliament anxiously awaited Gloucester’s explanation for his actions, Richard did not meet with much adversity from the people upon his arrival to London. They felt he was doing his duty, as no one suspected him of aspiring to anything but regent.
Richard was then formally installed as Protectorate of England, but Richard realized that his power would not last forever, possibly four to five years. In prior years, Richard had gained much public support and accolades for his part in fighting Scotland. He uses this support in his next step of a move for the throne. In the past there had been rumors of Edward the IV being illegitimate, now there was evidence that Edward’s son was illegitimate as well, as Edward IV had not been legally wed to Elizabeth when they had Edward V.
Upon hearing this news, Richard chose to proceed with caution, only telling chief political players and asking their advice. Richard was wise for these actions. He had been known for his prudence in the past in the war with Scotland. When Edward IV wanted a crushing blow to the Scots, Richard realized that it would be too costly and at the same time England had already accomplished a great feat. Richard pushed for Edward to end the fighting and sign a treaty that would end the bloodshed. This shows Richards strategic savvy as well as his diplomatic nature to maneuver for the best interests of everyone.
With true foresight, Richard arranges for Dr. Shaw to preach of such travesties of the illegitimacy in his preaching in a sermon in St. Pauls Cross. This marks the final step in his plan. He had already incited his motives with the correct people in parliament and now as parliament gathered for what they thought would be the planning of the coronation of Edward IV, they were now discussing and drawing plans for the rise of Richard to the Crown. Richard had successfully positioned himself to claim the throne as if he had no intentions of doing so in the first place.
With the princes removed from the bloodline, he was the heir apparent in everyone’s eyes. This would not bode well with the Woodvilles for long. In order to solidify his claim to the throne, Richard decided to act upon the best interests of the land. One of his first actions was to travel the land and bestow gifts to many across the country. In his travels he performed many beneficial deeds. A major action that showed his compassion was his pardoning of Hastings wife. Hastings had opposed Richard and was thus beheaded. In order to make amends, Richard pardoned his wife and allowed her to keep her lands.
In the north, Richard granted lands for public use, gave money to churches and embraced the people. His influence and good deeds reached the Bishop of St. David’s who proclaimed, He contents the people wher he goys bests that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffred wrong many days have be relevyd and helped by hym God hath sent hym to us for the wel of us all. Such ideas were tantamount as to Richard’s commitment to improving England. He was not merely limited to philanthropic duties. In parliament many historians credit him with reforms for the better of England with his various “Public Acts”.
The most important centered around Royal benevolence. Richard pushed for making it illegal for such activities by the king, and for financial reform of the government. He also established a line of succession to ensure the stability of England when he died. This had been missing in England for some years. Richard had social agendas as well. Richard calls for measures to reform the court systems. Corruption had taken hold of juries and Richard instated laws to minimize this as well as defend those accused of crimes by creating bail.
To ensure all were represented, even those poor who could not afford representation in court, Richard III called for the creation of the Court of Requests. These courts gave the opportunity for anyone to have representation. At the same time Richard realizes the influence of the rising middle class throughout England. When the Irish were minting similar coins as England, therefor damaging the merchants of England, Richard called for the Irish to regulate their money by centralizing their mints in two regulated cities.
They were also forced to change their coins so they were not similar to the English equivalent. This was done to gain the support of the middle class and gain their support, as well as improve England’s economy. Richard was determined to bring England to the forefront of world power, but he also realized that England needed time to heal from the situation they we in. The country was divided due to wars and his usurpation of the throne. In meeting with representatives from Spain, he solidified peace between the two nations by signing a treaty.
He passed the opportunity to join with them in a war against France because he did not want to throw England into a war they were not prepared for. Richard worked for internal stability as well as he worked for an armistice with Scotland to end engagements that were costing his country dearly in finances. All throughout the land the commoners were raising up about oppression and extortion by some of the lords. Richard supported the people and called for them to bring their grievances to his political figures in the Earl of Lincoln, and the Earl of Northumberland.
In doing this, the grievances would be dealt with speedily and ramified. Through his deeds to unify and strengthen the country, Richard did neglect some which in the end lead to his downfall. One of his close allies became jealous and overzealous in thinking of taking the throne for himself. The Duke of Buckingham, who helped Richard claim the throne, became power hungry at the behest of Bishop Morton, one of Richard’s detestors. Buckingham also had a faint claim to the throne, as a descendant of Edward III spurred on by Morton. Buckingham gained support of many of the nobles to create a rebellion to attempt to take the throne.
This rebellion lasted a short while, but showed the lack of loyalty of even Richard’s closest allies. Buckingham was captured and quickly beheaded due to his treasonous actions along with many of his supporters. These actions seem to be a result of a flawed policy Richard used to reward his supporters in the north after his rise to the throne. One of the duties given to the king is that of bestowing honors and titles to the nobility of the south. In comparison with his predecessor, Edward IV, Richard only called upon twenty-six barons for his first parliament, compared to forty-four by Edward.
This further extended the rift after Buckingham’s rebellion when the king seized the land of Buckingham’s supporters. Richard had the ability to distribute such lands as he saw fit. The mistake he made was in rewarding those in the north that helped him in the past. Instead of expanding his support in the south, and unifying his power, he bestowed large pieces of land to his close circle of supporters from the north. His power was already solidified in the north. He should have looked to expand his influence in the south so he could bridge the gap in the nobility of England.
Richard was at a disadvantage due to the shortage of nobility in England at the same time. Due to subsequent wars, many had been killed in battle. Richard needed to streamline his administration, which lowered the cost associated with government. With this it is hard to see how England was in financial trouble. Edward IV had left Richard an impressive treasury. Tracing back to the distribution of land, Richard should have sold the lands to the nobility to gain the spoils of his victory. Due to this situation, Richard was forced to reneg on one of his revolutionary legislative acts.
Because he was now facing opposition from Henry Tudor and his imminent invasion, Richard needed to raise money to raise an army for defense. The financial drain of the rebellion, as well as charitable acts had left him with no choice except to take loans from his nobility. These loans were not on the terms of the nobility, as they were forced to contribute to the king as their duty. These loans almost directly conflicted with his legislature to make illegal royal benevolencies. This wore sown public support for the king, as well as the nobility’s trust in Richard.
Richard was also dealt a personal blow that took on public meaning. With rumors circulating about the Richard’s involvement in the murder of the princes, the ramifications of Richard’s son dying took on new meaning. Not only was it a great personal blow to Richard, who had worked to ensure his son’s place on the throne, but it had religious implications for the public. The public saw this and the Queen’s death as a punishment from God for Richard’s involvement in the killing of the princes. His hopes for an heir were further dashed across the ground when his wife died of a tragic disease.
The public saw that the throne was unstable again due to the vacancy if the king died. This idea threw uncertainty into the minds of many that felt secure in the transfer of power from Richard to his son in the future. George also fell victim to poor decision making when acting impulsively late in his career. After he became comfortable in his position, Richard seemed to take for granted the support he had from the people. As his queen, Anne, continued to deteriorate in health, he began to have interest in his niece Elizabeth.
As he was well versed in the bible, he only saw wrong in a woman marrying her nephew and no problem with marrying a niece. Luckily his advisors caught wind of his plan, but not before rumors of such a plot reached the public. Richard was forced to make a public speech regarding the subject that proved to be an embarrassment. The end of Richard’s reign was seen with much lost support for his rule. As Henry Tudor raised an army with the support of English exiles, Richard continued to have the confidence that he could not be defeated. Now Henry was the one to act with prudence.
After landing his troops, he proceeded with caution, waiting for reinforcements from his allies in England, those nobles whom Richard had fell out of favor. He was undermanned and unprepared for battle, but his patience would pay off. With the support of many nobles, Henry proceeded through the heart of England unopposed. Richard seeing this realizes that Lord Stanley was a traitor. In the ensuing battle Stanley feigns attacking and merely shadows Henry’s forces. Stanley would have full out supported Henry except for the fact that Richard had kidnapped his son and threatened to kill him if Stanley turned against him.
The Battle of Bosworth began and was over with little more than one hundred dead on the side of Henry. Richard’s troops were unwilling to fight, and only those close to Richard politically took up arms in a futile attempt to stem the tide. Richard is seen as a monster through history. Many people overlook the good he did in his legislation and charitable acts. A few open-minded scholars feel he could have been one of the most influential kings of England if the circumstances were different. How is anyone to judge such a person in such turbulent times?
Richard was a product of his times, and he did what was necessary to survive in the political anarchy of the Middle Ages. If one was to look at Richard for a lesson to learn, there is much to take away from his experiences. Political decision making surrounds every aspect of Richard’s life. His good and bad decisions are what made him immortal. You can see such prominent politicians today in the same light. They may not be killing each other, but politicians political lives sway in the wind just as gingerly if their decision making and policy are not supported, and backed strongly by their party.