King Richard III was a man of courage and never a child-killer

Nov 26, 2013
Crispin Black

His final resting place will be decided by a court today, but who was Richard III?

IT'S THE FACE of a king and a handsome face. But is it, as some historians would have us believe, the face of a stop-at-nothing murderer of defenceless children?

The Princes in the Tower (Edward V and Richard Duke of York) were certainly murdered but not by their uncle King Richard III: a modern jury would dismiss much of the 'evidence' against him before the first tea break.

Most of it comes from two propagandists on the Tudor payroll keen to blacken Richard's name - an Italian cleric and humanist scholar called Polydore Vergil commissioned by Henry VII to write a history of England in 1505 and rewarded with a series of juicy English ecclesiastical offices. He enthusiastically adopted his master's malice towards Richard which went on to enter the DNA of English history and permeated the later popular works that Shakespeare used as sources for his plays. His eccentric belief that Cambridge was founded before Oxford has however sunk without a trace.

The other malign influence was Sir Thomas More – not in reality the saint portrayed in A Man For All Seasons but a Tudor toady and enthusiastic burner of protestant martyrs - until falling out with Henry VIII over his marriage to Anne Boleyn. His History of King Richard III is a masterpiece of character assassination.

The first modern writer to smell a rat was Sir Clements Markham, the polar explorer and patron of Captain Scott, who wrote a sympathetic biography of Richard. The golden age detective novelist Josephine Tey read it and after seeing the portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery she found it hard to believe that a man with such a sweet face could be a child-killer.

In her 1951 book The Daughter of Time she gets her fictional detective, Inspector Alan Grant, to investigate the mystery. In his police procedural way, Grant concludes that there was no evidence at all that the princes were missing from the tower during Richard's short reign. Indeed, he had no reason to do them in since their illegitimacy was widely suspected and had been agreed by parliament. Their father, Edward IV, had an eye for the ladies and was probably already married when he married the boys' mother, Elizabeth Woodville. Woodville remained on the closest terms with Richard during his short reign.

Henry VII in stark contrast had a very dodgy claim to the throne that relied on illegitimate descent from John of Gaunt. The Princes in the Tower represented a real threat. Inspector Grant concludes it was Henry who got them out of the way.

The death of the young princes was certainly a tragedy. One can only imagine how grim their lives became after the declaration of their illegitimacy and imprisonment – their vulnerability and mutual reliance was touchingly portrayed by Millais in a 19th Century portrait. As a young officer doing late night rounds at the Tower of London, the Bloody Tower where the boys were done to death seemed a peculiarly bleak and depressing spot.

In identifying the lost remains of Richard III, scientists at Leicester University have achieved an astonishing piece of detective work through DNA profiling – all the more gratifying for them as the technique was invented at the university in 1984 by the geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys.

Under the terms of the exhumation licence granted by the Ministry of Justice to the university they are responsible for the reburial – in Leicester Cathedral a few hundred yards away. As Richard's body would have received Christian burial by the monks of Greyfriars Church at the time (you can't be buried twice under canon law) his re-interment will be marked by a ceremony of remembrance. The church authorities in Leicester are envisaging something on a major scale as befits a king – there is already a memorial to him in the nave.

Richard III was the last Plantagenet king and the last English king to be killed in battle. Despite Shakespeare's slurs there is little doubt that he was a physically courageous man. The wounds on his skeleton clearly demonstrate that he fought to the bitter end at Bosworth.

He deserves to be commemorated with all the respect we normally give to a dead sovereign – lying in state and full military honours with the coffin carried by the Grenadier Guards as is customary. An anointed king is, after all, an anointed king.

Crispin Black's new thriller, 'The Falklands Intercept', is published by Gibson Square.

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The truth comes out eventually. Congrats to the patient investigators and academics. And perhaps a lesson we should all look closer at today's day to day history.

I have suggested that his bones be sent to a fertilizer company and ground to a fine bone meal. Then at least we can say that at long long last, royal did something worthwhile for the people of Britain.

"Grant concludes that there was no evidence at all that the princes were missing from the tower during Richard's short reign. Indeed, he had no reason to do them in since their illegitimacy was widely suspected and had been agreed by parliament"

well apart from Holinshed who actually provided most of the source material for Shakespeare indicating that Richard had referred to being 'innocent of the murder' of his 'nephews'.

It's worth noting the timelines.

April 1483 Edward IV dies; Richard declared lord protector of Edward V.

Richard moves down from York meets with Buckingham, arrests the Kings uncle and executes him without trial on allegations of plotting against R.

Takes the princes to the tower under urging of Hastings.

June 1483 Hastings executed on allegations of plotting against R. Princes declared illegitimate.

July 1483 R crowned.

Autumn 1483. Buckingham rebels on behalf of Edward V with Henry Tudor. Tudor fails to land. Buckingham defeated.

November 1483 Buckingham executed for treason against R.

Many modern historians are extremely sceptical of the revisionist 'Richard the Good' position. At the end of the day not only did the princes not live beyond at the latest 1485, but also the Princes Uncles, brothers of Woodville ended up dead, along with those involved in the overthrow of the woodvilles. Fine, history was written by Tudor who frankly *was* an usurper, but the actual record shows that those that worked alongside Richard had a remarkably high mortality.

You are a complete "richard"!

William Gladys,what a stupid comment. since the royals used to actually govern the country it is absurd to suggest everything they did was bad. There were clearly some good things, such as Richard III introducing the right to bail, reforms to stop jury tampering and other social reforms for the benefit of the ordinary man, oh and bravely defending his country in battle! what good have you done btw?

Mark - Your comment re William Gladys, is naive in the extreme - clearly whatever a royal does - the present profligate royals in Britain included - you will err on the side of praise. The tremendous 'good' that I have done for my country is my business not yours. Stop spouting nonsense like a stupid moron -PLEASE!

Dobbo - Fe fi fo fum, I smell the stench of a royal clan,Be they Richard, or William, or Harry or Ed, I will grind their bones to make my bread. (And be pleased that they have benefited this country at last and relish munching such notoriety with my toast, and expelling later)

Pity Crispin Black has a shaky grasp of history. Sir Thomas Moore died long before Henry VIII came to the throne so could not have fallen out with him.

Henry Vlll had Thomas Moor beheaded as he would not sign his bit of paper which lead to the break with Rome and the Dissolution of the Monastries.