In Richard III, what sort of man is Earl Rivers?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anthony Woodville, the Earl Rivers, appears in Richard III as a supporter of the Royal Lineage, and is killed to keep the young Prince Edward off the throne.

Anthony Woodville has few lines in the play (and is credited as Lord (Earl) Rivers, or just Rivers); he consoles his sister, Queen Elizabeth, and comments on events as a political figure. As the Baron of Scales, Anthony had influence over the court, and as the uncle of Prince of Wales Edward, he was in a unique position of authority. He seems to be an educated man, with a strong love of his family and country; interestingly, when facing Duke Richard of Gloucester, who aspires to be King, Anthony says:

Lord (Earl) Rivers. My Lord of Gloucester, in those busy days
Which here you urge to prove us enemies,
We follow'd then our lord, our lawful king:
So should we you, if you should be our king.

The implication is that although he is a Royalist, and loyal to his family, he is also a man of his country and is willing to support the lawfully crowned king, whoever it is. His support of his nephew is shown powerfully when brought to his death:

Lord (Earl) Rivers. Sir Richard Ratcliff, let me tell thee this:
To-day shalt thou behold a subject die
For truth, for duty, and for loyalty.

However, he is not without a spiteful side; returning briefly as a ghost, Anthony proclaims:

Lord (Earl) Rivers. [To KING RICHARD III]
Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow,
Rivers. that died at Pomfret! despair, and die!

Typical of his nature would be the power of his belief in the Royal family and lineage, and in his own ethical and moral stance. He has faith in the law, and is content to know that his death is in support of a cause, instead of for personal gain.