richard iii and henry vii: how different were they

Who were they?
ii) What was their background and how may it have affected them?
iii) What was their character and style of kingship?
iv) What did they leave at their deaths?
Richard (born 2/10/1452)was the fourth son and youngest child of
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. His father’s line descended from
Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York, and fourth son of Edward III, a
legitimate line. His mother was Cecily Neville, the Rose of Raby, daughter
of the first Earl of Westmorland, and sister to Richard Neville, Earl of
Warwick, the Kingmaker. His eldest brother Edward, Earl of March,
became Edward IV. Richard married Anne Neville, daughter of Richard,
Earl of Warwick, and his cousin. They had one son, Edward, Prince of
Wales, who died in 1484. Richard had two illegitimate children before his
marriage, Katherine, who married Lord Herbert, and John of Gloucester.
Henry (born 28/1/1457) was the only son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of
Richmond, and Lady Margaret Beaufort. His grandfather was Owen Tudor,
who married Katherine Valois, widow of Henry V. Henry’s supposed claim
to the throne was through his mother, as the supposed heiress of the
House of Lancaster, but the Beaufort line (descended from John of
Gaunt’s eventual marriage to Katherine Swynford) had been declared
illegitimate, and debarred from the line of succession to the Crown,
although John of Gaunt’ claim was superior. Henry married Elizabeth
Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV. Of their six children, two of whom
died in infancy, there remained Arthur, Henry, Margaret and Mary.
Both had a troubled early life. Of the two, Henry’s life was more
disturbed: an only child of a devoted mother, he spent his childhood in
Wales, and much of his youth living in France or Brittany, constantly on
the move fearing arrest or other dire consequences. His upbringing did
not provide him with any experience of government or military matters.
But it honed his instinct for self-preservation, and developed a focused
eye to the main chance. Suspicion was his watchword.
Richard spent time in exile in Flanders as a child and adolescent. But ,
after Edward secured his position on the throne, Richard’s life became
more settled; he married and lived mostly in the North of England. His
brother, the King, trusted him implicitly, and valued his administrative
and military skill. In his will, Edward made Richard Lord Protector. Close
family feeling and loyalty, trust, even naivety, are marks of Richard’s
character. It was characteristic that he protested vigorously against the
death/execution of his brother Clarence, although he also saw in it the
hand of the Woodvilles.
Their disturbed early life experiences apart, they were similar in being
faithful husbands and devoted fathers, both experienced the loss of a
child/children. They were both devoted sons of the Church,
commissioning chapels and churches. Henry’s devotion had a particular
character: when he felt himself near death (on two occasions) he released
all those imprisoned on his orders; but, on recovery, caused them to be
reimprisoned. Both Richard and Henry took a close interest in the
administration of the kingdom, but with widely differing objectives and
The nub of the discussion.
Thomas Penn’s biography of Henry, the Winter King, describes a deeply
unpleasant man. Diarmaid McCulloch names him as “the most flagrant
usurper since William the Conqueror”. Henry knew that his claim to the throne
was shaky (the main claim advanced in his initial proclamation was right
of conquest, with the Lancastrian strain second). This insecurity marks his
His dishonest and dishonourable career as King began by attempting to
claim that his reign dated to the day before Bosworth so that he could
declare Richard’s supporters traitors to their lawful monarch; this was
defeated. He ordered all copies of the Titulus Regius, setting out Richard’s
claim to the throne in 1483, to be destroyed without being read. While his
pursuit of money could be partially explained by his need to bolster his
security, there is evidence of a natural inclination to acquisitiveness. He
was mean and ungenerous. His government comprised men of like
manner who served that desire. The devious, dishonest, even criminal,
members of his Council, some of whom he inherited from his mother,
were Cardinal Morton of Morton’s Fork, Sir Reynald Brey, Richard Fox, th
Lord Privy Seal, Empson and Dudley. Bray instituted the Council Learned
in the Law, a “kangaroo” court, which existed to extract the maximum of
money from his subjects. Its operations were opaque: those summoned
to appear before it had no idea of their supposed crime or even where the
court was to sit. Having denigrated his predecessor as a tyrant, his own
behaviour and style of government were characterised by a harsh
disregard for the rights and welfare of his subjects: some caught up in the
toils of Morton’s Fork committed suicide, were incarcerated until their
“debts” had been settled, went into exile. Magna Carta was, to all intents
and purposes, suspended. The only system of law and means of seeking
legal redress was what Henry decided. He did not set out to endear
himself to his subjects, and kept his distance, claiming that it was better
“to be feared than loved”. He even changed the style and title of the
monarch from “Your Grace” to “Your Majesty”.
His word was not his bond: he tricked Sir James Tyrell into returning to
England from Calais on the promise of safe conduct, had him executed
and subsequently published his alleged confession to the murders of the
Princes. He also tricked John of Gloucester into returning to England,
where he met a similar fate.
Henry’s insecurity took a even more murderous turn: his reign was
characterised by the systematic elimination of all the Yorkist potential
claimants to the throne: the young Earl of Warwick (Richard’s declared
heir after the death of his son) was a helpless prisoner for fourteen years,
and then beheaded. The de la Pole family managed to keep out of the
way, but then the elderly Countess of Salisbury, Clarence’s daughter, only
survived into the next reign.
His behaviour towards women was unchivalrous: his wife, Elizabeth,
whose claim (pace Edward IV’s previous contract to Eleanor Butler) was
greatly superior to his own, was not crowned at the same time as him.
Women were treated as chattels: his behaviour towards the widowed
Catherine of Aragon was ungenerous and unkind (as was that of her own
father), even though he contemplated marriage to her himself on
Elizabeth’s death; he told his emissaries to check on the “breath” of a
potential second wife; he immured his mother-in-law in Bermondsey
Abbey for some unspecified offence.
Now set this against Richard’s record.
Richard was quite clear that his title to the throne was legitimate: it was
endorsed by senior figures, as well as Parliament, and encapsulated in the
Titulus Regius. His coronation (and that of Anne) was popular and wellattended, possibly in relief at the peaceful transfer of power. He was clear
that he expected his councillors to operate to the benefit of the people as
set out in his instruction to his judges:
“...the king’s highness is fully determined to see due administration of justice throughout
this his realm to be had and to reform, punish and subdue all extortions and oppressions
in the same”.
His interest in his subjects’ welfare was personal and direct. He involved
himself in a range of local issues, and sat on the King’s Bench to hear
cases. He introduced a form of legal aid for the poor, which evolved into
the Tudor (although not under his successor) Court of Requests. His
councillors were experienced administrators known for their integrity: two
examples were his Chancellor, Bishop Russell, and Bishop Alcock. In
contrast to Henry’s cupidity, Richard did not exploit any opportunities for
pecuniary advantage: his disgust at the effective bribes extended to his
brother and others in the Treaty of Picquigny, his refusal, while on
progress after the Coronation, to accept gifts of money, saying that he
would rather have (his subjects’) love than their money, are illustrative.
He did nonetheless have to take a clear hand in the financial affairs of the
kingdom, which were not in a good state. It has to be said that some
biographers, Charles Ross for one, are critical of his tough approach,
which he considered degenerated into sharp practice. Ross was also
critical of Richard’s handling of some wardships of children of prominent
families. Richard also fought (almost literally) his brother Clarence for his
wife’s inheritance; some biographers claim that this was for his own use.
Another biographer criticised his “strong arm tactics” in recovering the
dowry of his widowed mother-in-law.
The strong family feeling engendered through years of difficulty shows
clearly after his accession to the throne: pace the two Princes, all the
children, including Clarence’s, are brought to Court; he promises to
secure honourable marriages for the daughters; he keeps the two
illegitimate children at his Court.
His actions showed a character honourable and chivalrous. He did not
deprive the various widows of attainted peers, eg Lord Hastings, of their
inheritance. He encouraged Elizabeth Woodville to emerge from sanctuary
and live openly at his Court (admittedly, this could equally have had an
alternative motivation) to the extent that she tried to persuade her son,
the Marquis of Dorset, to leave Henry and return to England. Richard’s
letter to Chancellor Russell about the proposed marriage of his SolicitorGeneral Thomas Lynom to Jane Shore, mistress of Edward IV, one of his
bitterest enemies, is generous and understanding:
“Signifying unto you, that it is showed unto us , that our servant and solicitor, Thomas
Lynom, marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore, now being
in Ludgate by our commandment , hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is
said; and intendeth, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We, for
many causes, would be very sorry that he should be so disposed; and pray you,
therefore, to send for him, in that ye goodly may express and stir him to the contrary.”
“And, if ye find him utter set for to marry her, and none otherwise, would be advertised,
then, if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage
being deferred to our coming next to London) that, upon sufficient surety being found of
her good a-bearing, ye do send for her keeper, and discharge him of our commandment
by warrant of these; committing her to the rule and guiding of her father or any other,
by your discretion in the mean season”.
There were executions during his reign. But those executed (Rivers, Grey,
Vaughan, Lord Hastings) had either been involved in plots to kill him or
disrupt the state, or were killed after a battle (Duke of Buckingham).
I wonder if his honourable approach to life was the reason why he did not
produce the Princes to public view: he could not imagine anyone
suspecting that he had done them harm.
Apart from his administrative abilities, in which he resembled his father,
Richard was a renowned warrior: his support for his brother as his able
lieutenant, his campaigns against the Scots, where he also behaved with
considerable honour towards the people of Edinburgh. It is notable that it
was Richard who sought out Henry at Bosworth, rather than the other
way round. And was not killed by his prime adversary, but by a Welsh
pikeman, as we understand. Even his detractors were not able to overlook
his bravery: he died fighting in the “thickest press of his enemies”. The
Ballad of Bosworth Field records him as saying:
“He said, ‘Give me my battle-axe in my hand,
Set the crown of England on my head so high!
For by him that shaped both sea and land,
King of England this day will I die!’”
Over a reign of twenty-four years, Henry left a full treasury, squandered
by his son in short order. He left a detailed set of official records, with his
own extensive spidery comments on the financial pages. But his people
were dispirited, cowed, fearful, and the White Rose families were either
executed or dispersed out of his reach. During his reign, Henry was
indeed feared rather than loved. His death was concealed from the public
for two days, largely to ensure a tranquil succession. His own son did not
show himself especially grief-stricken, and soon set about eliminating his
father’s councillors (as well as emptying his treasury).
In his reign of just over two years, Richard sought to create a wellmanaged kingdom where the poor could receive justice, despite pressure
from powerful magnates. His Parliament was judged the most liberal of
many years. He abolished livery and maintenance (so reducing scope for
the powerful to take up arms), he instituted the concept of bail and legal
aid, he founded the College of Arms (all with us today), and an embryonic
Royal Navy.
Apart from the Lancastrian die-hards, Richard was on the whole respected
and loved. The Bishop of St David’s commented:
“He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man
that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his
commands in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of
money given him which he hath refused. On my truth, I never liked the conditions of any
prince so well as his. God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all”.
The citizens of York noted his death “to the great heaviness of this city”. And
the Earl of Northumberland, who unwisely ventured into the North to
pursue a policy of Henry’s, was dragged from his horse and killed as
vengeance for Richard’s death.
Richard had his faults, and the fate of the Princes remains unclear. But,
judging by what is known and publicly recorded, his reign was
benevolent. The question of the fate of the Princes remains a mystery.
But otherwise the reign can be summed up by the phrase: “By their fruits
shall ye know them”.