Richard III Reference
by William Shakespeare

Richard III book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Richard III Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Richard III

(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: England’s most maligned monarch, Richard III, in his attempt to restore order and dynastic stability to a nation torn by three decades of civil war by first serving his brother, Edward IV, loyally and then by accepting the throne himself, fell victim to the intrigues of those who were jealous of his loyalty and abilities and who coveted the Crown.

Early Life

Richard Plantagenet was born on October 2, 1452, at Fotheringay Castle, the youngest of nine children of Richard, Duke of York, and Cicely (née Neville), Duchess of York. He had two sisters—Anne, Duchess of Exeter, and Margaret (later Duchess of Burgundy)—and three brothers—Edmund, Earl of Rutland, Edward (later Edward IV), and George (later Duke of Clarence)—who survived to adulthood. Young Richard’s father had a claim to the throne, which was then occupied by the third king of the House of Lancaster, Henry VI. Although Richard, Duke of York, secretly aspired to the throne, he made no formal claim until 1459, four years after the outbreak of the dynastic struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster known as the Wars of the Roses. In the 1450’s, young Richard was nothing more than a junior cadet of a leading aristocratic family. None would have anticipated that within three decades he would become England’s most controversial monarch.

Richard’s attitudes and actions throughout his life were determined by the violence and chaos which became endemic among the great noble families during the Wars of the Roses, lasting from 1455 until Richard’s death thirty years later. The immediate background of the wars can be traced to the mental incapacitation of Henry VI in the summer of 1453. Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, to whom a son, the future Edward, Prince of Wales, was born in October, 1453, desired a regency for herself. Richard of York was named protector, however, and served capably until Henry regained his sanity in 1455. Then, under the influence of York’s enemies, the restored king not only demanded and secured the duke’s resignation but also threatened his life. It was at this time that the Duke of York and his supporters, chiefly his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, rose in rebellion. The first phase of the Wars of the Roses was decided at the Battle of St. Albans. Henry was defeated and taken prisoner by Richard, but the Duke of York did not take the throne, remaining temporarily satisfied to control the government indirectly. Queen Margaret was displeased, however, with York’s unofficial supremacy. Determined that her son should eventually succeed his father, she made her move in late 1460. At the Battle of Wakefield, on December 30, 1460, the Yorkists suffered a seemingly disastrous defeat. The Duke of York and his oldest surviving son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed. Warwick did not arrive from France fast enough to save his cousin, and the Lancastrians had regained unchallenged control.

The revival of Lancastrian power did not, however, last long. The leadership of the Yorkist cause was now assumed by the dead duke’s oldest surviving son and Richard’s oldest brother, Edward. Joining his forces with those of Warwick, Edward defeated the Lancastrian forces at Towton Moor on March 29, 1461. Henry VI and Queen Margaret fled, and Edward of York marched on London, claiming the throne as Edward IV by right of descent from Edward III. Soon after his coronation in June, 1461, his brothers George and Richard were admitted to the Order of the Garter. At this time also George was created Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester.

The first years of Edward’s reign went well, and primarily with the aid of Warwick, he succeeded in restoring order to the realm. In 1463, Queen Margaret again raised the standard of revolt for the House of Lancaster. Again defeated, she fled with her son Edward into exile in France. Henry VI was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. At this point, Richard was only...

(The entire section is 4,386 words.)