Writing About Richard III: Admissible Sources and Emotional Responses

Writing About Richard III: Admissible Sources and Emotional Responses

By Carole Cusack

Lecture given at the Richard III Society of New South Wales (2010)


Abstract: This lecture considers the two earliest sources for the reign of Richard III, Dominic Mancini’s De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tertium (The Usurpation of the Realm of England by Richard III), which was written in December 1483, and the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle, which was written in April 1486. The sources historians accept as genuine affect the pictures of Richard III’s reign that they paint, and their decisions as to whether he may have been responsible for the disappearance and death of his nephews. Reception history is interested in the way that historical persons and events are received by audiences across cultures and times. What is it about Richard III that provokes an emotional response, when so many other British monarchs are of scant interest to twenty-first century people?

Introduction: For many, the discussion of the historical sources for the reign of Richard III in Josephine Tey’s enduringly popular novel The Daughter of Time is a key pillar in their support of Richard as a wronged man, a monarch innocent of the deaths of his nephews Edward and Richard, the ‘Princes in the Tower’. Tey’s Alan Grant notes perceptively that Thomas More (1478-1535), author of the unfinished History of King Richard the Third (1513) was eight when Richard died at Bosworth Field. Further, he served Henry VIII, the son of Henry Tudor, Richard’s vanquisher. More also reported the perspective of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VII, in whose household he had lived as a boy. However, More’s History was based on range of oral sources, the earliest of whom was his father, Sir John More.

Edward IV died on 9 April 1483 at Westminster. Richard III, accompanied by six hundred men in mourning, came south from York, and met the Duke of Buckingham and his entourage, en routefrom London, at Northampton on 29 April. They intercepted Rivers and Dorset and the princes at Stoney Stratford, and arrived in London on 4 May. On 5 June Richard moves from Baynard’s Castle to a leased residence, Crosby Place. Prince Edward’s coronation was scheduled for 22 June and his robes had been ordered. On 8 June Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, told the Council that Edward IV had been pre-contracted to Eleanor Butler (Thomas More names Elizabeth Lucy, a mistress, instead). Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was therefore invalid, and their children illegitimate. Parliament passed Titulus Regius, an act giving Richard the throne, on 25 June. Henry VII repealed this act and ordered all copies to be destroyed; the only surviving copy is in the Croyland Chronicle, a text only discovered during the reign of James I.

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