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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > May 2017 > Richard III

Richard III

Julian Humphrys looks at the life and changing reputation of England's most controversial king
Monster or martyr? Was Richard III really as mean as Shakespeare makes out?

Large crowds lined the streets as the coffin containing the remains of Richard III was taken to Leicester Cathedral for reinterment on 26 March 2015. The Archbishop of Canterbury led the service, members of the royal family were present, the Queen herself wrote a message for the order of service, while the Leicester authorities made it clear that Richard was being buried not just with dignity but with honour. For many of those present, Richard was a much-maligned king who was finally getting the respect he deserved. But not everyone saw it that way. Writing in e Guardian, Polly Toynbee bemoaned the fact that Britain "mourned a monster" simply because he had been king. Even today, this controversial monarch continues to divide opinions.

A re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth, at which Henry Tudor's forces slay King Richard

Born in 1452 at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire, Richard was the fourth son of Cecily Neville and Richard of York, whose conflict with the Lancastrian Henry VI was a major cause of the Wars of the Roses. In 1460, Richard’s father was killed at the Battle of Wakefield but in 1461, his eldest brother, Edward, defeated the Lancastrians at Towton. became Edward IV and appointed Richard Duke of Gloucester. Unlike his unreliable sibling, George, Duke of Clarence, whose machinations would see him executed in 1478, Richard appears the very model of a loyal younger brother. Living up to his motto of ‘Loyauté me Lie’ (Loyalty Binds Me), he joined Edward in exile after Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had restored Henry VI to the throne in 1470. The following year, they returned to England and Richard contributed to the Yorkist victories at Barnet (where Warwick was killed) and Tewkesbury where he led Edward’s vanguard.

Anthony Woodville (kneeling) was a loyal supporter of Edward IV (seated), and was executed in 1483 almost certainly on Richard's orders
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About History Revealed

When news broke a couple of years back that the body of Richard III had been discovered under a car park in Leicester, hope sprang afresh that the truth about this most divisive of kings would finally be put to rest. But while the find offered many clues, we have much fact yet to separate from fiction. Who was the real Richard? Was he a murderous usurper, or has his reputation been tarnished in a classic case of the victors writing history? We get to the heart of the matter from page 30.