The Ricardian Journey

I had intended this blog as a tale of my Ricardian journey, but recent events interrupted my musings, bounced them down the order of importance in much the same way that the item due to be shown on Look North two nights ago was bounced by the all important news about Leeds United’s continuing saga. A case of “drop the dead king.”

Richard III is chiefly remembered as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower. I beg to differ.

In our household Richard III is almost viewed as a favoured uncle. He is just there, his picture prominent  as he has been for decades, as we walk up & down stairs. I didn’t go badgering people, not many are really interested in mediaeval history, and if you were to go round with a placard that says “Richard III is innocent” people would, probably quite rightly, think that you’re a nut-job. No, it was just a personal belief, but yes, I would talk to anyone who showed the remotest interest until their eyes glazed over.

I’d read Daughter of Time, We Speak no Treason, a Trail of Blood (Jeremy Potter) and various other novels, but wasn’t a serious student. I just had this gut feeling that if popular history were to be believed, then Richard Plantagenet must have had a complete character transplant somewhere on the A1 between attending his brother’s memorial, at which he and the northern nobility pledged fealty to the new king, Edward V, and Stony Stratford, where he caught up with the Ludlow contingent.

I couldn’t reconcile the man, whose loyalty to his brother was above reproach, with one who could then order the murder of that beloved brother’s sons. Nor could I see why he would do away with two illegitimate boys, whilst caring for the legitimate son of George of Clarence, who, were he not debarred by his father’s treason, had a better claim than Richard. The attainder was easily reversible by parliament, whilst the legitimacy issue could only be overturned by the Pope.

Richard was no fool. Even if he had planned the coup d’état, he didn’t do it unilaterally. He was presented with the evidence of his brother’s pre-contract, and had to be invited by the three estates before he accepted. He was, effectively elected to serve as king. Yes, a minority rule was not ideal, and the leading figures of the day probably weren’t too keen on the idea of a 12 year-old king, but there is nothing to suggest that Bishop Stillington was lying.

So what did Richard have to gain from their murder? Well, removal of the contender to the throne would certainly have made his position more secure, but in that case, why did he not arrange for a very public funeral, so that everyone knew the boys were dead? Why leave people guessing? And if he did have them killed, how on earth did Henry Tudor not discover this and tell the nation? The only answer I can come up with is that the princes were still alive at the time of Bosworth. Henry VII’s plan was to marry Elizabeth of York, but he would not marry a bastard, and by legitimising her, he legitimised her younger brothers, making one of them, wherever they were, the rightful claimant to the throne. It didn’t make them safe, and when Richard died they were still young boys: easy, if Henry discovered their whereabouts, to dispose of quietly, because rumours had already started to circulate about their disappearance.

But I don’t believe that Henry did the deed either, I am coming to the conclusion that at least one, Richard, survived to adulthood, and that he may well have been the man known to us as Perkin Warbeck.

Nothing in either Richard III’s character, or Henry’s actions persuades me that they predeceased Richard III.

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