Richard III becomes king of England
Mention of Richard III for most people immediately conjures up a vision of an evil and despotic usurper, and worse still, a child murderer. But the majority of that vision is a Tudor creation – history after all is written by the victors – with propagandists of the power of Thomas More and of course Shakespeare weighing in against the man.
When Edward IV died suddenly in April 1483 he left his son, the 12-year-old Edward V , as his heir. There was imminent danger of a struggle for power in the kingdom again, after 12 years of peace. The Woodville family was plotting to snatch the king and use him as a puppet ruler. Richard swore fealty to the boy-king at York as he rode to confront the plotters, and had his entourage do the same.
When Richard seized Edward and his nine-year-old brother from the Woodvilles it seemed to be to take them to safety. The boys were taken to the Tower of London , a royal palace as well as a prison, seemingly for their protection. They were never seen alive again. Various Woodville figures were arrested and later executed in Pontefract Castle .
The death of the princes has been laid at many doors: Richard’s, as the boys were rivals; Henry VII , as the deaths cleared his future path too; the Duke of Buckingham, seeking to ingratiate himself with Richard, and also suspected as he had a good claim to the throne too. It is very unlikely that the truth will ever be known.
Richard was proclaimed Protector of the realm, and of the princes in the tower who were his nephews, Edward being too young to rule. But by June the princes were declared to be the fruits of an illegitimate union, the tale being that Edward IV’s marriage to their mother was illegal, the king already having been betrothed by a Bishop to Lady Eleanor Butler. As Lady Eleanor was alive at the time of Edward’s marriage, by the law of the day that marriage was void. Whether this was true is highly doubtful, but it was evidently convenient for Richard, and probably for the country, gaining an adult king of proven ability.
On the 22nd of June 1483 a proclamation was made in London declaring Richard to be rightful king. Parliament ratified this in a bill, and Richard was crowned on the 6th of July that year.
The events were largely welcomed in the country, with memories of the bloodshed and chaos during the reign of the weakling king Henry VI still vivid. Richard, however, was only to rule for two years, his rival Henry Tudor seizing the throne at Bosworth Field.
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