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The History of King Richard III - Introduction

The History of King Richard the Third


Thomas More and Richard Grafton

            The recent discovery of the body of King Richard III of England has renewed interest in the earliest biography of him by Thomas More. More left it unfinished, but a continuation was added in the first publication in 1543. Here we have the source of much of Shakespeare's play, and of the subsequent popular image of Richard as one of history's leading scoundrels. It describes a career based on treachery and ruthlessness, prominent crimes being the massacre of his opponents upon seizing power and the murder of the Princes in the Tower (who were his nephews). He is even credited with a plan to buttress his claim to the throne by an incestuous marriage with his niece Elizabeth, sister of the murdered princes. After a couple of tyrannical years, he was overthrown by Henry Tudor to popular rejoicing. A man, in short, deformed in both body and soul.

            Subsequent historians have proposed that he was not as black as he was painted, and that the biography was a work of Tudor propaganda. It has even been suggested that the princes were murdered on the orders of Henry Tudor, however the evidence for this is conjectural at best. A more balanced judgement (ours) is that all the protagonists had the morality of drug traffickers warring over territory. Still,
good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor, they are all equal now

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