This Day in History 7/6: Richard III is crowned King of England

Do all of history’s bad guys deserve their reputations?  In the case of Richard III, probably yes and no.

Today in 1483, Richard, Duke of Gloucester was crowned Richard III of England.  It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

When his brother Edward IV died in April, Richard was made Lord Protector of the heir apparent, the future Edward V.  Little Edward was supposed to be crowned on June 22, but all of a sudden, his mother’s marriage to Edward IV was declared invalid, making the young prince a young bastard.

Who, then, became the king in his stead?  Why his lord protector of course, the king’s brother, Richard.  The young Edward and his brother were never heard from again, as they became the infamous “princes in the tower.”  Richard ruled for two years until he himself was killed in a battle against the forces of Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, in Bosworth Field in 1485.  The last English king to die in battle, Richard was also only the second king to die in battle on English soil since Harold Godwinson in the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

In terms of facts, this is really it.  Yet Richard III is remembered as a hunchbacked, monstrous villain thanks to one William Shakespeare.

Today, Richard is a very controversial figure.  Many still view his deeds, especially those portrayed in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, as being genuine.  To an extent, they have a point.  Richard did scheme and connive his way onto the throne.  However, his machinations were certainly not much more than his predecessors’, especially his brother–and certainly on par with his successors, especially his usurper Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII.  There is even doubt to his culpability in the death of the princes in the Tower.

Richard’s treachery, thus, is pretty par for the course in the wide lens of British history.

In fact, there are many who view Richard as a stablizing force in England at the time.  With the death of Edward IV, many believe Richard enjoyed a popular reputation as a staunch defender of the realm and a force for continuity.  Richard fended off rebellions from within and without when Edward was king, and his succession was viewed as a necessary progression rather than a coup.

Yet the Richard of Shakespeare still creeps into history.  It’s too bad, because the fictional Richard is so much fun to watch–his schemes, his backstabbing, and his eventual comeuppance.

Attached is the famous Act I soliloquy of Richard from the 1995 film Richard III starring Sir Ian McKellan in the title role.  It ranks up there with Olivier’s Richard as among the best performances of the character on film.  It takes a while to get to the actual speech, but it’s worth it.

I highly recommend viewing the whole film.  There’s so much bad Shakespeare out there that its so refreshing when it’s done right…and few do it better nowadays than Sir Ian.  Enjoy.

1 Comment

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One response to “This Day in History 7/6: Richard III is crowned King of England

  1. There’s a nice work of historical fiction on Richard III that appreciates the known “facts” and still casts him as an extraordinarily sympathetic character.

    The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

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