Richard III had a long list of crimes to answer for before his own subjects, appalled by his tyranny, rebelled after just two years of his rule and
welcomed the unknown Welshman Henry Tudor in his place. They helped Henry to defeat Richard’s army at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485, killed
the king before he could flee, and dragged his torn and battered body to the nearby town of Leicester.
Why, since the discovery of what has now been positively identified as Richard’s skeleton in the ruins of the Franciscan Abbey of Greyfriars under a
Leicester council car park, has there been such an avalanche of praise heaped on this awful little man? The lauding of wicked Richard has come not
only from the usual suspects in his starry-eyed fan club, but from serious historians who really should know better. Chris Skidmore, a Tory MP and
Tudor historian who has written a new book about Bosworth, even tabled a Commons Motion calling on the government to ‘arrange a full state funeral
for the long dead monarch, and for his remains to be interred appropriately’.
The Richard III Society may huff and puff, but almost all serious modern historians – including Richard’s most recent biographers Professor
Michael Hicks and Desmond Seward, and the respected historian Alison Weir – have come to the same conclusion: contemporary evidence rather than
“Tudor propaganda” leaves little room for doubt that he is guilty of the crimes for which posterity (and Shakespeare) have traditionally condemned
him. To pretend otherwise, as so many Ricardians do, is sentimental fantasy.
For the murder of Henry VI, stabbed and/or bludgeoned as he knelt in prayer in his cell in the Tower’s Wakefield tower, contemporary chronicler John
Warkworth is specific: King Henry, he says was ‘put to death between eleven and twelve o clock… by the Duke of Gloucester (Richard’s title
before he usurped the throne).’ The Burgundian diplomat Philppe de Commines, unlike Warkworth a sympathiser with Richard’s Yorkist house, agreed.
Richard, he says, ‘killed poor King Henry with his own hand, or else caused him to be killed in his presence’. John Morton, bishop of Ely, wrote
that Richard ‘slew King Henry with his own hand as men constantly say.’ Richard’s crime was widely known and his name reviled in his lifetime,
long before any Tudor propagandists got spinning.
The arrest and killing of Richard’s other prominent victims – Hastings, Buckingham, Rivers and Grey – were carried out brazenly as open acts of
terror to scare his subjects into submission in the aftermath of the coup that brought him the throne in Spring 1483. But Richard was canny enough to
know that the rubbing out of the two little Princes, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, the frail final obstacles that stood in the way
of his grasping total power, would be a murder too far even in an age inured to the terrible bloodletting of the Wars of the Roses. He ensured,
therefore, that the smothering of the two boys in their Tower bedsheets was carried out in secret by his own Keeper of Horse, Sir James Tyrell, and
two hired thugs, Miles Forest and John Dighton.
Although the fullest details of the double murder do indeed come from a Tudor writer – Sir Thomas More, Richard’s earliest biographer, who got his
information from those who were at the Tower at the time – the literally killer fact ignored by the Richardian revisionists, is that More’s
description of where the boys’ bodies were buried – under a heap of stones beneath the White Tower – exactly fits the actual discovery of their
skeletons in the reign of Charles II. Charles certainly believed that the skeletons were those of his ancestors, and he gave them a fitting regal
burial in Westminster Abbey. The skeletons were exhumed and examined in the 1930s after a Ricardian campaign and were found – surprise, surprise –
to be those of two boys of the same ages as the Princes when they disappeared in September 1483.
A modern lawyer, addressing the Court of History in Richard’s defence, would make modish excuses for his client’s behaviour. For Richard suffered
a dysfunctional childhood and youth. His father, two of his brothers and his guardian, Warwick the Kingmaker, all died violently in the Wars of the
Roses. No wonder Richard’s characteristic tic – seen at his own coronation – was playing with his dagger, drawing it in and out of its sheath,
while casting suspicious glances all around him. No wonder, too, that his many enemies spread absurd stories that he had been born with teeth and hair
down to his shoulders, or that he had only to breathe on a flower for its petals to wither. The crooked product of twisted times, Richard would never
The Leicester bones have finally been identified, so where should Richard’s mortal remains be reburied? Leicester looks likely to claim the king for
its own cathedral. Westminster Abbey, resting place of the princes, has also been suggested. Surely it would be sacrilege to bury this killer in any
Holy place. Even stowing him in the Yorkist heartland, in York Minster or the castles of Middleham and Sheriff Hutton, would be showing him too much
respect. Like his fellow tyrant Adolf Hitler, whose bunker, by strange coincidence, now lies under a Berlin car park, the best resting place for
Richard would surely be a dishonoured tomb underneath the very same car park where he has lain these past five centuries. He deserves no better.
Nigel Jones’s Tower: an epic history of the Tower of London is published by Hutchinson/Windmill. He will lead ‘Winter of Discontent’ a tour of
Ricardian sites in Yorkshire, the Midlands and London between August 20-23 2013. www.historicaltrips.com