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"And every tale condemns me for a villain."

Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1452 - 1485), from 1483 King Richard III, was the sixth son of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and brother of King Edward IV of England, who had seized the throne from the reigning king, Henry VI. (The complicated relationships of the various branches of The House of Plantagenet were the principal cause of the "Wars of the Roses", in which Richard distinguished himself.) On Edward's death, he seized the throne from Edward's son (called Edward V, though he was never actually crowned), declaring him and his younger brother Richard of York bastards. (Traditionally, Richard had his nephews murdered in the Tower of London; this has been much disputed since at least late Tudor times.) A rebellion led by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, arose, and Richard was killed fighting for his kingdom at Bosworth Field.

Richard's traditional reputation was largely formed by Sir Thomas More's History of king Richard the thirde, which (possibly based on the reminiscences of John Morton, Bishop of Ely) depicts Gloucester as a hunch-backed, withered-armed Machiavellian villain. More's account formed the basis for William Shakespeare's Richard III, which has probably been the most influential account of Richard's life and character — despite its obvious historical shortcomings — and has indeed tended to color perceptions of the entire Late Mediaeval period.

Nevertheless, Richard's rehabilitation started fairly early. In the reign of James I (i.e., after the death of the last of the Tudors), the antiquarian Sir George Buck discovered the suppressed Titulus Regius that set forth the Parliamentary explanation for Richard's assumption of the throne and claimed he had seen a letter (now lost, if it ever existed at all) from Edward V's sister, Elizabeth of York, which established the friendly relations between them, and wrote his History of King Richard III in an attempt to moderate the king's negative image. Unfortunately, Buck died insane, and his history was published only after his death, by his grandson (1646). Nevertheless, the concept of a Richard slandered by Henry Tudor (considered by most a man of few scruples) gained a strong following, and has influenced historians, either positively or negatively, ever since.

The fate of the Princes was never certainly established. The last sighting of the boys alive seems to have been around July, 1483, shortly before Richard's coronation. Stories of their death varied wildly: some said they had been poisoned, others drowned, others stabbed — but the most accepted version was that attested by Thomas More, that the princes had been smothered and buried secretly under a staircase in the Tower. Bones found there in 1674 under a staircase (as More had said, though he also said he had heard that Richard had had them disinterred and buried elsewhere) were declared to be theirs by the then king, Charles II. The identification is by no means certain; the bones were last examined in 1934, and it was determined at that time that not all of them were even human. Their age, sex, and date of burial have been disputed (though most experts agree they are pre-pubertal); there has even been some speculation that they're the remains of ceremonial sacrifices from Roman times. The dean and chapter of Westminster Abbey, where the bones are inurned, have refused to allow further testing, as has Queen Elizabeth II, who will not allow DNA analysis of the remains or of available remains of any known relatives of the Princes.

Popular depictions of Richard since Shakespeare's plays have generally veered back and forth from a Complete Monster depiction (Richard may be considered the patron saint of the Historical Villain Upgrade) to a revisionist version in which Richard, though appearing a somewhat cynical Deadpan Snarker, is nevertheless a fundamentally decent human being — often the only decent human being in what is otherwise a Deadly Decadent Court.

In 2012, Richard's long-lost remains were discovered during an archaeological exploration of a site identified as the location of the equally long-lost Greyfriars church, where records indicated he had been buried. The identification was based on mitochondrial DNA, soil analysis and dental tests, as well as features of the skeleton which corresponded to contemporary records of Richard's appearance. Of most interest is the discovery that Richard suffered from scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which is clearly the cause of his description as a "hunchback". (For more information see the relevant section of his Wikipedia page.)

Not to be confused with the current Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Queen Elizabeth II's first cousin, who is (so far as we know) not planning to usurp the throne. He is, however, a patron of the Richard III Society UK.

Works associated with Richard of Gloucester:

  • Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is probably the 20th century work that re-started the revisionist view of Richard. It involves her long-time detective hero Alan Grant bored in the hospital and piecing through the evidence in search of the "historical" Richard.
  • Richard of Gloucester is an ambivalent figure in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Black Arrow (1888), which has been adapted for televison and film several times, notably in 1911, 1948, and 1985.
  • William Shakespeare's Henry VI (Parts II and III) and Richard III.
  • Tower of London, a 1939 Universal horror film starring Basil Rathbone as Richard, and its 1962 remake, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.
    • Notable in that Price played Clarence in the Rathbone version.
  • The Doctor Who audio play "The Kingmaker" featured a ruthless, but fundamentally decent Richard III who sounded suspiciously like Christopher Eccleston.
    • ...which may be a bit of Fridge Brilliance: Richard throughout his reign was associated with Northern England, which was, indeed, more detrimental to his popularity in South England than his (alleged) crimes.
  • Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour is a Doorstopper epic detailing the Wars of the Roses, which focuses on a very sympathetic Richard.
    • Ripped off in Anne Easter Smith's A Rose For The Crown, which is by no means bad but is definitely inferior to the above in every way that counts.
  • Rosemary Hawley Jarman's We Speak No Treason is a long romance novel about Richard of Gloucester and the woman who loves him for all time.
  • The noted American playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote a little-known play called Richard and Anne. In it, the ghost of Richard III interrupts a production of Richard III in order to angst about his everlasting love for his wife Anne. And Henry of Richmond shows up as a vulgar music tutor.
  • John M. Ford's The Dragon Waiting has a pretty sympathetic Richard an Alternate History setting with Werewolves and vampires.
  • A short story by CJ Cherryh has a young woman who's been sentenced to the Tower of London meet several of the ghosts haunting it — including the two little princes. Edward V tells her that Richard was believed to have murdered them, but adds, "But he didn't, you know."
  • "Party Time with Richard III", an early Hark! A Vagrant comic.
  • In the first Blackadder series, Richard III was actually a pretty good ruler who reigned for a long time (long enough for his nephew and heir, Richard, Duke of York to grow up and have fully grown children of his own) and was accidentally beheaded by Edmund during a battle when he was mistaken for a thief. Most of his reign (and all of Richard IV's) were later Retconned by Henry Tudor to have never happened.
  • Horrible Histories gives Richard a song about how he's a nice guy who was unfairly vilified by Thomas More and William Shakespeare.
  • "The Ballad of Richard III" by Gwydion Penderwenn which takes a pro-Richard stance.
  • In Andre Norton's Quest Crosstime, the Alternate Universe in which most of the action happens is one that diverged from ours when Richard won at Bosworth — "with his own hand ... put an end to the Red Rose for all time" — ruled England wisely for decades thereafter, and encouraged the beginning of British settlement of the New World in 1505.