Richard III, The Innocent

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The controversy that has surrounded Richard III is one that will not die. Since the reign of Henry VII the question of Richard's guilt or innocence in regards to his nephews' murder has plagued historians. The story of a sinister and murderous Richard originated from Henry VII's time of rule. The myth explained Richard murdered the two sons of his brother Edward IV and usurped the crown following Edward's death. However, this account has been proven false over the yeas with historians' access to critical and accurate documents. Supposing that history might grant Richard III a retrial in the eyes of Englishmen, the childlike fairy tale of a villain might very well change. The highlights of Richard III's character would be remembered and England might have York at its heart. Richard's strongest defense would be simply that he was without a motive. Richard would not have gained one bit in way of retaining the crown; moreover it is evident now that Henry VII had the throne of England to gain on the Princes' heads.

Edward IV's last formal act before he died on 9 April 1483 was to assure to Richard, by the authority of Parliament, an extension of territory and increase of authority in the north (Roll of Parl., vi. P. 204). Until this time Richard had been with an army subduing the Scots and preparing for an advance into France. This last act by Edward IV demonstrates his faith in Richard's capabilities and his trust in his character. After Edward IV's death, Richard reciprocated with a demonstration of this trust by writing to Queen Elizabeth promising advent, homage and fealty to the King and his lord, eldest son of Edward IV, Edward V. He proceeded to York, but with the utmost care to tie up his business first. He then also made the nobility of the north ". . . take the oath of fealty to the King's son, he himself setting the example by swearing the first of all," (History of Antiquities of the City of York, William Boyer, 1736, p. 111). With 600 knights and esquires, all dressed in mourning, he traveled with stops for requiem at each large town. These acts demonstrate Richard's dedication to Edward IV and the inheritance laws of England, that the Prince of Wales should be the next king. Richard does not show an anxious need to be back in London trying to take the crown, nor does he return with a sizable army that would be needed to usurp the crown. "If Richard intended to seize power, he would have rushed to London or prevented Edward V from entering London. He did neither," (Legge, vol. I, pp. 121, 122)./ It was Edward IV's will that Richard would be the protectorate of the kingdom and the Princes until Edward V was old enough to rule. The noted source of Polydor writes, ". . . the nobles at London and in the south parts speedily call the duke home by their private letters and free approbation to assume the protection of the kingdom and the princes committed unto him by the King." Consider this also with the speech made later by Edward V from the throne concerning Richard in 1483: ". . . the right noble and famous prince the Duke of Gloucester in this Protectorate, in whose great prudence, wisdom, and fortune resides at this season the execution of the defense of the realm." He went on to urge "thys hygh Parliament" to confirm the Duke of Gloucester in the Protectorate. Richard escorted Edward into London and also prepared his great coronation. These very public and pronounced actions say a lot about Richard and his security about his place in the world. The sources are reliable figures in history and lso the eventual victim. The most negative conclusion one could draw from these facts would be that Richard was trying to assume a benevolent role to prove later on that he could not have murdered the Princes. However this argument I weak and would only take into account Richard's actions and not those of Edward IV, Edward V, and the nobility.

The final and greatest argument that Richard has on his side is the consideration of Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. This marriage produced a number of issues to consider. To begin with Elizabeth Woodville was married before her marriage to Edward IV and brought two sons with her to the union and had two sons with Edward IV, Edward, Prince of Wales and Richard, Duke of York, and a daughter, Elizabeth of York. Secondly, Edward IV was married to Eleanor Butler before Elizabeth. This marriage was secret and therefore never annulled. It had been an arranged marriage, but nevertheless it rendered the union of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville illegitimate. Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells testified to the legality of the marriage of Edward and Eleanor Butler. Contradictory to common knowledge, Richard was offered the crown by the Three Estates on 25 June 1483. Parliament formally deposed Edward V and willingly crowned Richard with Titulus Regis in January 1484. The document enumerated the illegitimacy of the marriage and the children, thereby canceling any claim to the throne through inheritance.

The table is set. Richard is king and the entire kingdom knows that the Edward V does not have claim to the throne. Nothing here suggests that Richard was an angry, villainous, or vengeful man. He was not a usurper of the crown and he certainly did not need power. If one considers the numerous inheritance questions in England's past, this seems to be relatively calm and orderly. One conclusion can be drawn from this. Richard was blackened after his rule; and indeed he was by none other than Henry VII. This is a safe statement to make in the light of his the facts. Titulus Regis made it very difficult for Henry VII to lawfully claim the throne. His claim was through his wife and the Princes' sister, Elizabeth of York. Henry VII was forced to repeal Titulus Regis, destroy any remaining copies and threaten those who would speak of it. He issued a warrant for Stillington's arrest the day after the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. Stillington remained in a cell at Windsor Castle until he died four years later. Sir James Tyrrel was executed in 1502 and shortly after a "confession" was produced said to be from him. All of this in conjunction with the fact that Henry had previously brought charges against Richard, but nothing was mentioned of two murders. Henry did have a motive: to retain the crown and unite the kingdom under the House of York and Lancaster.

These facts are summarized and do not go into great detail; however they still present a strong account for the acquittal of Richard III. Henry VII also provides an outlet for the blame that was previously placed on Richard. One might reach a "probably not guilty" verdict solely on the basis of a lack of motive.