Richard III: King & Usurper - where to now?

Author: Mel Brownlee /

 
Richard III: King & Usurper - where to now?
 
 
 



He was buried in a car park after a brutal and humiliating defeat and death at the hands of Henry Tudor, but the question on everyone’s minds now is where should King Richard III be laid to rest?


King Richard III – a title that I still believe he should never have acquired, and certainly not have kept. He was the brother of Kind Edward IV and when he passed away Richard was left as Lord Protector and ultimately, the protector of his nephew and the successor to the throne – 12 year old Edward V. We all know the story of the Princes in the Tower and we all know who we like to imagine committed/ordered the murder of the two young princes.


Who we imagine it to be is probably who it actually was, a brother who felt like he had the dynastic right to the throne and was not satisfied with letting it pass to the rightful ruler, his nephew. It was a common tale of greed, hunger for power and betrayal. Edward V and his 9 year old brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, the Duke of York, were placed in the tower awaiting coronation of Edward as king. It was this pretence that has aroused the greatest suspicion in Richard and given historians and the public alike enough cause to blame him for the untimely deaths of the two princes.

 
 

It is said neither of the princes were seen after 1483 – the same year that Richard was crowned King. Their fate remained a mystery for many years until, in 1674, the skeletal remains of two children were found under the staircase to leading to chapel in the White Tower. For those who believed that Richard had something to do with the young princes disappearance, this was quite definitive proof he had been the one to have them murdered (it was unlikely that a man of his stature would have dirtied his own hands when there were always people to do his bidding).


Richard III had a seemingly strong argument to back up his claim to the throne: he had been told on good authority that the marriage between his brother, Edward IV, and his wife Elizabeth Woodville was invalid due to Edward’s relations and supposed pre-contract with Eleanor Butler, the daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. This pre-contract would be damming to the offspring of Edward IV’s marriage and cast doubt over the legitimacy of the two princes and in Richard III’s mind it would have brought into question his nephews claim to the throne. He did, I suppose, what any man of his time would – accept the claims to be true and declare the children to be bastards, making him the rightful king.


This was a questionable move, for it was only a clergyman that had informed Richard III of his late brothers pre-contract and therefore, even if the source had been reliable, there was no proof and nothing was ever given a clear and just judgment. Neither the courts nor papal authority denounced the young prince’s claim to the throne, nor was he ever legally declared illegitimate so for Richard III to make this move himself and usurp the throne of England was a seemingly deceitful move.


In truth, Richard III’s bad reputation probably originated from there, long before the Tudor stories of his tyrannical ways and deformity, before the Shakespearian legends and myths. Whether it can be proven or not, most people – the exception being the members of the Richard III society who defend him through rose coloured glasses – believe that Richard III was solely responsible for the death of his nephews. Perhaps he knew his claim to the throne was weak, perhaps he never really believed the princes were illegitimate and worried that one day, when Edward V came of age and had enough people to throw their weight behind his cause, he would be dismantled and his nephew would take back his birth right. Perhaps the only way for him to ever fully attain what he had desired his whole life, to keep it and to never have it question, was to get rid of the two people he had sworn to protect. I believe that Richard III knew he could never properly lay claim to the English throne, that the people would never accept him whilst the rightful heir still lived, so for a man like him in those times, there was only one thing that could be done.


Richard III failed to open an investigation to the death of his nephews, which caused even more suspicion and to the modern day eye it is quite easy for us to see who the culprit was. But back then, many a tongue would have been bitten. For Richard was the new king, and no one dared to question the king.


Richard’s reign would be short lived though. After two years on the throne he was usurped by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field which subsequently ended the War of the Roses and marked the beginning of the infamous Tudor dynasty. Accounts note that Richard fought bravely and admirably until his horse became stuck in swampy grounds and he was surrounded. It is at this moment of Shakespeare’s famous line, all too aware of his imminent death, Richard cries out: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” He battled until the very end, but Henry’s men were too much for him and he suffered a violent and brutal death, with further humiliation to come when his naked body was paraded on horseback through the streets and he was stabbed in the buttocks. 
 


An honourable, yet grizzly death but also a deserved one some might say. Richard III had many enemies and, contradicting accounts made by Richardians, was not loved by his subjects. Even his allies were hated and soon after seeing the fate of their usurper king they fled and surrendered their cause. Henry Tudor was then crowned king at the top of Crown Hill and a new monarchy was established.


Over the years, the legend of Richard III began to take form and thanks to the Tudors and Shakespeare we establish an image of the last Plantagenet King. The True Tragedy of Richard III states that he was "A man ill shaped, crooked backed, lame armed" adding that he was "valiantly minded, but tyrannous in authority." He has always been portrayed as a very ambitious and self serving man, intent on getting what he wants and willing to do so by any means. He was said to have had a hunchback, and a withered arm. In Shakespearean play The Tragedy of King Richard the Third he is described as an ugly hunchback who is "rudely stamp'd", "deformed, unfinish'd", and cannot "strut before a wanton ambling nymph."


Thomas More, Lord Chancellor and councillor to Henry VIII, described the king as "little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crook-backed ... hard-favoured of visage." To add to this image, Polydore Vergil, an Italian priest and diplomat, said that he was "deformed of body ... one shoulder higher than the right". Statements like this would only enhance the physical reputation of the king and give way for even more myths and conspiracies as to the usurper kings appearance.


This description of the king would transpire through history, in plays and films alike, giving us all a pretty harsh image of what he would have looked like and an insight into the kind of man and ruler that he was. It is much disputed by Richardians that he had any of the aforementioned deformities but when his remains were found a severe curve in his spinal cord was immediately identified, shattering the beliefs that he was not a hunchback and in a way solidifying the claims made by his enemies about his appearance.

 
 

Richard III was the last (and only second) king of England to die on the battlefield and his place of burial has been the subject of much speculation for hundreds of years. Legend has it that he was cast into a river, but the more likely story is that he was buried in the graveyard at Greyfriars Church, Leicester. The site of the graveyard is now a car park and as we all know, Richard’s remains were found there in September of last year. But now that the king’s remains have been discovered and identified, the question is: where will he be laid to rest?


Many people believe he should be given the honours of a king of England, and appropriately should be laid to rest in Westminster Abbey as is the custom for English monarchs. But should Richard III be buried in accordance with his former status and given the proper honours that he supposedly deserves? In my opinion: no.


Richard III, as well known as he is, was never the rightful king. His brother had sons, those sons were heirs, and Richard had them eliminated so that he could take the throne for himself. For all of Richard’s sins and discrepancies I do not believe that he has the right to take his place with former great kings and queens of England by being buried at Westminster Abbey. He was a usurper, a murderer. He betrayed his nephews, the memory of his brother and ultimately, he betrayed England. He committed treason and was able to rule unpunished, until his enemies put an end to his life and reign.


So why should such a man be buried in Westminster Abbey? So many agree that he should be, and so many believe he should be given a state funeral but they are not looking at the bigger picture – that is, that Richard III would have been nothing if not for his crimes and in today’s world, he would be hated and despised for his actions.


But for now, the legend of the sometime king lives on and the dispute over his rightful burial place continues. His discovery has reignited a lost interest in history and the fascinating characters that hath been before us; it has captivated people across the world and given a lot of truth to the myths and legends surrounding Richard III. And I am sure we will only continue to learn more.


Richard III: The King in the car park – and that, I believe, is where he should remain.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
M.

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