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Richard III

Richard III, 1452–85, king of England (1483–85), younger brother of Edward IV. Created duke of Gloucester at Edward's coronation (1461), he served his brother faithfully during Edward's lifetime—fighting at Barnet and Tewkesbury and later invading Scotland. On the death (Apr., 1483) of the king, Edward's eldest son, then only 12 years old, was proclaimed king as Edward V.

Richard, aided by Henry Stafford, 2d duke of Buckingham, seized custody of the young king from Edward IV's widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and her relatives, and was able to assume the protectorship. Soon afterward, apparently suspecting a conspiracy against himself, he arrested and summarily executed Lord Hastings, a leading member of the council. He followed this provocative move by having Parliament declare his brother's children illegitimate. Edward V and his brother were placed in the Tower of London, where they were almost certainly murdered. This was probably done on Richard's orders, though the evidence is inconclusive, and historians have suggested several other figures of the time who might have instigated the killing of the princes.

Richard had himself crowned king in July, 1483. A rebellion broke out in Oct., 1483, led by Richard's erstwhile supporter Buckingham, in favor of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII). This revolt collapsed, and Buckingham was executed. In 1485, however, Henry landed in Wales, defeated and killed Richard in the battle of Bosworth Field, and ascended the throne. Richard's remains were rediscovered in 2012 in Leicester.

Despite his usurpation of the throne, Richard was not the total villain that tradition has made him. His evil reputation, perpetuated by Shakespeare's Richard III, was shaped at least in part by the efforts of Tudor propagandists to justify Henry VII's own usurpation. Richard was the last of the Yorkist kings, and, in retrospect, his death ended the Wars of the Roses.

See biographies by P. Kendall (1955, repr. 1972), C. Ross (1982), and R. Horrox (1989); E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century (1961).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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