Richard III vindicated as book sheds new light on murder accusations

Medieval King Richard III reburied in English cathedral

For centuries, King Richard III has fascinated scholars — and theatregoers alike — long thought of as a jealous, power-hungry, murderous King, or in other words, “the bad guy”. But experts now hope that the republication of Sir George Buc’s (or Buck’s) History of King Richard III, which dates back to the 1600s, will clear Richard III’s long-sullied reputation. The book reveals that the noted scholar, an ambassador for King James I and Master of the King’s Revels, admired Richard, with experts now describing his book as the “very first serious defence” of the former Monarch. Here, spoke with the chair of the Richard III Society about what this work meant for the Princes in the Tower conspiracy.

William Shakespeare is often credited with having played a huge part in creating the enduring image of Richard III, who ruled for just two years from 1483 to 1485. 

He had been heavily influenced by Tudor loyalists and the likes of Thomas More who sought to ruin his reputation in order to secure the Tudor claim to the throne. 

When writing in around 1591, the playwright was therefore inspired to create one of the most famous evil characters and had evidently decided that the Monarch had signed off on the death of the two princes. 

Richard’s nephews disappeared from the record in 1483 with it being thought in popular culture that King Edward V of England, 12, and Richard of Shrewsbury, nine, were murdered so that Richard could secure the throne for himself. 

Legend has it the Princes, sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, were locked in the Tower of London together for their own protection by Richard III, their uncle, and The Lord Protector. But they were never to be seen again.

Theirs is dubbed one of the most “intriguing ‘murders” that is said to have taken place in the famous castle. In 1674, two small skeletons were found beneath the staircase in the White Tower but the Crown has not yet granted permission to examine the bones. 

Ricardians — those who dispute his negative posthumous reputation — argue that one should not assume that the boys were murdered as other assumed “facts” have been disproved by Buc’s work.

Matthew Lewis, chair of the Richard III Society, told that the work by Buc, transcribed by the scholar Arthur Kincaid, means we should reconsider the “most serious charge” against him. 

In fact, one cannot describe the case as a “murder” but rather a “missing persons case”, he explained. 

He said: “If, as Buc contends, Richard was not the bad guy history remembers him as then we should look again at the most serious charge laid before him.”

He continued: “The story of the Princes in the Tower is best described, for now at least, as a missing persons case rather than one of certain murder.

“Arthur Kincaid’s new edition of Buc’s work reminds us to question accepted stories to find out for ourselves whether we’ve been sold a lie.”

The 1619 work, which was left ignored and badly damaged for hundreds of years, is described by the Society as being the “very first serious defence” of Richard with Buc considered the “first Ricardian”. 

Almost 20 years after the Tudor era drew to a close, he set out assessing documents that are now lost, “clearly forming an opinion” that Richard “never” deserved his “dark reputation”. 

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But the documents that Buc used to form his opinion have since been lost with this now leading to the obvious question: “What else is missing?”   

Mr Lewis continued: “He was no usurper, and certainly no tyrant. If those parts of his story were a fabrication, what about the worst charge of all  that he was a child murderer?” 

It is argued that if records did exist in 1484 and 1485 revealing that the Princes were in fact alive, then Henry VII had a “vested interest” in making sure that they did not survive. 

He added: “Many of the documents Buc used are lost to us. What else might be? We know Henry destroyed records, from Acts of Parliament to evidence of Edward IV’s bigamy. What we don’t know is how much was lost, and precisely what it was.”

The History of King Richard III by George Buc, transcribed by Arthur Kincaid, will be published by the Society of Antiquaries of London on April 20 and is available here. 

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