Known today as the tyrannical king portrayed in Shakespeare's ‘Richard III', King Richard III's reign was a controversial one – mostly because of the way in which he came to power. He was not only the last king of the House of York but also the last of the Plantagenet monarchs.
Who Was Richard III?
Richard was born in 1452 to Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. Before he came to the throne, he was most notably the brother of King Edward IV, who ruled England from 1461 to 1470 and again from 1471 to 1483.
When King Henry VI suffered a mental breakdown, it was Richard who served as Lord Protector of England and, during his brother's reign, Richard was a great helping hand to the king. He took care of northern England, governing well and keeping the peace. In fact, he was very well-respected and well-liked in the north and that didn't change when he became king himself.
The Princes in the Tower
When King Edward IV died in 1483, Richard was left in charge of looking after his nephew, Edward's eldest son, Edward V, who was aged 12 at the time and, by default, the rightful king. Richard had the young boy kept at the Tower of London and later had him joined by his younger brother, 9-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury.
Here, the story takes a rather dark turn.
On the claim that the two boys were illegitimate and therefore couldn't take the throne, Richard named himself king, and both boys mysteriously disappeared. Throughout the history books, the finger of blame has been pointed at Richard time and time again for their disappearance and, though no evidence exists, many believe Richard murdered them.
Not many people dared to speak up about the curious situation. One nobleman, Lord Hastings, however, did. King Richard arrested him and had him beheaded there and then. This was the move that likely ensured everyone's silence on the matter from that point forward.
The Short Reign of King Richard III
Richard enjoyed a short reign only lasting 26 months but that was enough time to leave behind a legacy. Richard's image as a dreadful king comes from the Tudors who came after him, but was he really so terrible? They certainly had reason to paint him in a bad light and contemporary evidence actually suggests he was a great ruler.
He did, however, have rather a number of enemies. He relied on the support that he'd built in the north and that did nothing to soothe the resentment of those in the south. Some made a stand against the king, including the Duke of Buckingham, his former friend turned enemy, who led a rebellion but was immediately beheaded. From then on, Richard's enemies were banking on Henry Tudor as a new leader, who had a thin claim to the throne as he also descended from Edward III but was the head of the House of Lancaster. For now, at least, Henry Tudor was laying low in Brittany.
Despite this, however, he did make a number of good moves as king. Among them were making some important changes to the law; he reformed the jury system and brought in the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty'.
The Last of the Plantagenets
It was, of course, Henry Tudor who eventually led the revolt against King Richard. Henry landed at Milford Haven in the hopes of recruiting Welshmen to join his army. He then marched to Leicestershire, where he met Richard and his army at Bosworth.
Richard's 8,000-strong army far outnumbered Henry's 5,000, but it was still a battle he could not win. Surrounded, Richard was beaten so hard that it's thought his helmet entered his skull and killed him.
Richard died the last of the Plantagenets kings. His death marks the end of the medieval period in England and the beginning of the Tudor period, Henry Tudor becoming the first Tudor king, King Henry VII.