Richard III is one of the most controversial monarchs who history has seen fit to label a monstrous villain. Most of this is due to Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard III’ who portrayed him as evil personified as well as the Tudor propaganda, which has influenced our perception of him. There have been many historians, who are dedicated to clearing his name, yet in the reverse many propose to expose his vicious crimes. However, of how much of his insecurity was his own fault. Was Richard III completely to blame for the outcome of controversy to his name!
Richard is probably best well known for the rumours about his involvement in the killing of the two princes – his nephews. He declared the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate and said that their two sons (heir to the throne) were ‘bastards’ before taking the throne for himself and murdering the boys. Much like 21st century the killing of children is greatly condemned and by doing this made him unpopular as a king. He made a serious error carrying out this plot and had little hope of holding onto the crown after his actions. By being ruthless and selfish he had immediately lost a great amount of support through only his own fault!
Henry Tudor (soon to be Henry VII) had strong foreign rulers who backed him. After returning from exile to France Henry got the support of the French King, Charles VIII, due to his anger with Richard’s intervention and negotiation with the Duke of Francis II. This gave him financial and military assistance to support an invasion of England in the hope it would prevent Richard from helping Brittany. Henry also had the backing of Queen Elizabeth and the rest of the Woodville family due to their anger with Richard for disinheriting her children from the throne. Although the involvement of foreign rulers, on Henrys side, was not directly Richards’s fault he greatly instigated it. If he had not gone out looking to make negotiations, which he knew would cause conflict with other countries, then he would not have got himself into that mess. He knew already that he had little support and instead of trying to make amends and become a good leader, he decided to create rivalry through deals with foreigners. His actions only added to his already growing insecurity.
Also, Richard III owed a lot to ‘Buckingham’. Much like Warwick, Buckingham was seen as a ‘kingmaker’ and had been Richard’s chief supporter during the overthrow of Edward V. He had a great influence on Richard and was the main man in helping him gain the throne. He owed a lot of his success to Buckingham and it was seen that Richard had dependency on him – which revealed a weakness in his position. After becoming king he immediately promoted Buckingham and gave him control of Wales. However, he was not satisfied (he believed he should be owed more for his input) and therefore led a series of uprisings – Buckingham’s rebellion! As Richard lacked followers the rebellion caused yet more conflict. It showed those around him that didn’t have the backing or the power to be able to stop the over-mighty subject. Again, this was only the fault of Richard himself. He gave Buckingham the power and literally set him up to be able to enforce a rebellion. Buckingham knew that Richard was in debt to him and could therefore push to get what he wanted knowing the king would not try to stop him. If Richard had been more forceful in dealing with this powerful noble it may have restored him some success.
On the other hand, Richard had many strengths that aided him in reducing the amount of insecurity he had as king. During his reign Richard proved to be a capable and energetic king. In politics and government he was determined to stamp his authority on the kingdom by promising to outlaw corruption, restore peace and reform the legal system. By doing this he showed that he was putting in place actions which would make his country a better place – this would have definitely got him a lot of credit. He also participated in government and moved around the kingdom to show himself to his subjects. As he did take interest and contribute in the government it would have allowed him to see what was happening and give him the chance to have an input in the direct source of law making; it meant that he knew what was going on! As well as this he took steps in making the council better, like in July 1484 he transformed his household council into a more formal council with full powers to govern the reign on behalf of the king. He made sure that the courts and laws were updated to move on with the times in order to make his reign and the publics life better.
During Richards’s reign he had limited opposition! Aside from Buckingham’s rebellion, which he managed to stop and gained Buckingham’s income from, Richard had very little other crossfire. From the Lancastrian heir there was nobody with a powerful enough claim to be able to usurp him, which gave him no threat from that side. Although there were powerful nobles, not many of them were strong enough to raise an army against him – they had also seen Buckingham executed for his rebellion and many chose to keep themselves to themselves in order to stay safe. The Woodvilles had a lot of means to overthrow Richard, yet they were pretty powerless to do so. The only threat of invasion was from Henry Tudor in 1483 but he had to turn back! As there was less opposition he was more secure as a king. It diminished insecurities he had and gave him time to spend on more troubling problems.
Richard was a very religious king. He spent money on building monuments like chantry chapels. It showed to the kingdom how dedicated he was to the religious beliefs of his country and how he was willing to spend his money on chapels. He also surrounded himself with strong and powerful bishops like John Russell and Thomas Langton. At these times bishops were some of the most almighty and trustworthy people in the kingdom, by surrounding himself with these kinds of people it allowed him to have a good network of friends he could rely on – making him more secure and protected. Richard also took time to build amazingly structured halls, chapels and buildings. The way in which he embraced religion sent of a good message to his people – it allowed them to look at him in a different light. By being accepted by the church and its followers gave Richard a guarded, strong support system as religion was a very powerful source!
Overall, Richard did have a great input on his insecurities yet he did do many successful things, which helped to counteract them. Taking drastic measures, like killing the heir to the throne/his own nephews, meant that he lost A LOT of backing. Not only this but Henry Tudor and his foreign relations also aided him into feeling more insecure. Richard’s main problem was that he did not have a good following and this gave him great doubt and weakness throughout his reign. On the positive side he was an active outgoing king, with little opposition, yet he greatly lacked following (through his own fault) which diminished all value of his good deeds. If he had have had assistance from his people, doubled with his success, he could have been a great king!