Richard, Duke of Gloucester later Richard III, was born at Fotheringhay Castle on 2nd of October 1452. When he was only eight his father and brother were slain at the battle of Wakefield. After the battle of Towton in 1461, he was created Duke of Gloucester and sent to be educated in the Earl of Warwick’s household at Middleham, where he stayed until 1469. It has been suggested that the power-hungry and rebellious Earl was a strong influence on Gloucester’s later policies.
In 1469 Gloucester followed his elder brother Edward IV into exile, then returned with him to fight at both Barnet and Tewkesbury. At the former the Duke was engaged in some of the heaviest fighting and many of his household were killed, while Gloucester himself was wounded.
In 1472 he married the Earl of Warwick’s daughter, whom he had known since childhood; the next year they had a son, Edward of Middleham.
In 1483 Edward died, leaving behind him a 12-year-old heir, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Edward IV’s will named Gloucester Lord Protector of the Realm, but the Woodvilles (the king’s family on his mother’s side) wished to keep the power they had held under Edward and govern England themselves. Gloucester and his friend the Duke of Buckingham snatched Edward V from the Woodville’s hands as he marched to his coronation and had Anthony Woodville, the king’s guardian arrested. Edward was then taken to the Tower, then not the sombre place of today’s legends, but a royal palace and the traditional home of monarchs before their coronations. Edward was later joined by his younger brother, York.
On June 22, 1483 Gloucester made a claim that the boys were illegitimate since Edward IV had been betrothed to Eleanor Butler before his Woodville marriage. This left Gloucester next in line for the throne. Parliament accepted this and passed an act known as Titulus Regius, declaring Gloucester king.
On July 6, 1483 Richard III was crowned at Westminster Abby. He was to be the last Plantagenet king. Shortly after his coronation all sightings of the princes in the Tower ceased, and they were never seen again. For his own security Richard can have had little choice but to make them ‘disappear’.
Later, in 1483, Buckingham betrayed him master and invited Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond to invade. He then raised his own standard and rebelled but neither Henry Tudor nor Buckingham ever got anywhere near Richard; both were defeated by dreadful weather. Buckingham was soon captured, put on trial for treason and executed on the 2nd of November.
In April 1484, Richard’s only son went to an early grave, followed just a year later by his wife. To add to his troubles he was under constant threat of invasion from Henry Tudor, who finally landed in Wales in 1485. Battle was joined at Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485, where, betrayed by Lord Stanley, Richard was slain and defeated. He was the last English king to die in battle.
During his short term as king Richard showed a passion for justice and order. He in fact brought many beneficial changes to the people of England, passing some of the most enlightened laws of the Fifteenth Century. Some of them are still fundamental even to the present day. It is thanks to Richard that we, today, have legal aid, bail for offenders, and qualified juries. Richard wanted equal justice for the poor and rich and put a stop to the age-old traditions of intimidating the jury and bribery. He also made a large step forward by commanding laws be written in English instead of Latin so that the commoners could for the first time understand their own laws.