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Richard III: Knave, Fool or Savior?

The great debate continues – no, not Clinton v Trump, or even Creamy v Crunchy (peanut butter, that is), but Richard III: Knave, Fool, or Savior? The History of England podcast, which I adore, is getting close to wrapping up the Wars of the Roses, the civil war that tore England apart in the 15th century, and paved the way for an upstart Welshman with no real claim to the throne to become king.

The host, David Crowther (who admits to being a dedicated Yorkist) has been running a contest/poll on his Facebook page, and this may, gentle readers, be the most important vote you make this year. Okay, I’m totally making that part up. But seriously, you should go and have a listen to his podcasts, and vote. He’s amazing.

Richard has eluded historians for 500 years. In 2013 his body was discovered buried in a car park in Leicester, which has made him even more famous, and generated more interest in him again. Was he the humpbacked villain of Shakespeare fame? A victim of circumstance? Or was he a really good guy, doing what really good guys do, and running the country as he felt was best?

All the evidence for or against either way is circumstantial, so it’s really impossible to know either way. There are some, like the Ricardians, who absolutely adore him and think he was the greatest monarch ever to live, bar none. There are others who think he was a nephew-killing-usurper and has no redeeming qualities.

So here’s what we know happened. Edward IV died unexpectedly. His son, Edward V was a 12 year old. A minor, but not for long; he’d likely claim his majority within 5 years or so. Edward IV’s brother, Richard, was up north. Edward V and Richard both start to head to London. Edward, with his uncle, the Queen’s (Elizabeth Woodville) brother. The same Queen who wasn’t royal, caught Edward’s eye and played hard to get, and spent much of her efforts raising her family up to vaulted status so that there were factions at court between the old nobles, and these upstart Woodville’s.

Edward IV names Richard, his brother, as the Protector of the Realm while his son, Edward V, is a minor. Richard sends a note to Edward. Hey, let’s meet up along the way and enter London together. Fair enough. They meet up in Stony Stratford, and Edward’s uncle has a lovely feast with Richard.

Next day, he’s arrested. Richard tells Edward that he’s an evil advisor who helped to kill his father (Edward IV) due to leading him astray and imperiling his health. Edward doesn’t buy it – he likes his uncle, and thinks that Richard (also his uncle, but Edward isn’t very close to him) might be making it up.

They enter London. There is a council meeting where the Woodville clan decides to have a ruling council, and Richard feels threatened. And then within weeks he takes the throne. And possibly kills his nephew, but we’ll never know for certain who killed the Princes in the Tower, so that’s sort of off the table in judging Richard.

It’s possible that Richard truly felt threatened by a plot, and discovered something going on that really shouldn’t have been. It’s possible that he felt he had to take control of the kingdom, and knew something that we don’t. As David points out, if you take away all the cynicism around him, his actions make perfect sense. Parliament itself made him King. Surely if he was usurping they would have put up more of a fight.

However, history hasn’t been kind to Richard. Shakespeare, especially, is responsible for our view of Richard as an evil tyrant, but then he would have that opinion since his Queen (Elizabeth’s) grandfather was the one who defeated Richard at Bosworth.

So really, who knows. That’s why this election is so exciting. There’s no way to prove it either way, but it’s good fun looking at what everyone thinks.

Listen to his podcast on the three options here (http://historyofengland.typepad.com/blog/2016/07/richard-iii-knave-fool-or-saviour.html) and then follow the instructions to vote. Voting ends this week, so get listening.