This day in 1452 was born Richard Plantagenet, youngest son of Richard, Duke of York and his wife Cecily Neville at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.
He was destined to become one of England’s most famous kings despite only reigning for just over two years. Defamed after his death by the Tudors, he was a decent man, a loyal brother, a fair and just Lord and would have been, in my opinion, one of our greatest kings. “Why?” I hear you ask . “Didn’t he usurp the throne and murder his nephews?”
Well, as regards the charge of ‘usurper’, the term means taking something (the Crown) by force or without legal authority. He did not take do this as he was petitioned to become King by the Three Estates and this was legally ratified in the following Parliament (Titulus Regius – all copies of which Henry Tudor tried to destroy. Luckily one copy survived, proving his legal right to the throne). It was Henry Tudor who was the real usurper.
Then we come to the murder of the Princes. Basically, not only is there NO proof he had them killed, there is not even any evidence that they were killed at all, by anyone. They disappeared a few months after Richard was crowned, but it is equally plausible that they were moved elsewhere for their own safety. There was at least one later pretender to the throne who claimed to be one of the princes (and convinced most of the heads of state in Europe) – Perkin Warbeck. Richard had no need to murder them, as he was already crowned King. Even if he had wanted to stop any further rebellions with them as the figurehead, it would have been useless to kill them and keep it a secret. He could easily have had them smothered or poisoned (which wouldn’t have been detectable then) and then claim they had succumbed to one of any number of illnesses that were then fatal. So there is no proof of these charges.
But what good did he ever do then?
Well, it might surprise you to know about some of the things he did in his short reign.
He encouraged learning and reading and had his laws written in English as well as taking his vow of allegiance in English. In fact he is the most English monarch we have had since Harold, who was also defeated in Battle by a foreign bastard. This is so because he is the only one not only to have been born in England but whose parents and grandparents were also born here. The next one who will satisfy these criteria will be Prince George.
He abolished benevolences, taxes by any other name, levied on the whim of the monarch and not needing to be paid back.
He strengthened the bail laws and ensured that his judges, as far as possible, dispensed fair judgements on all, whether rich or poor. He introduced legislation to minimise corruption of juries, and changed the land laws so that fraudulent sales were no longer allowed to happen.
He introduced a primitive kind of ‘legal aid’ whereby if a poor man could not afford to bring a case to court he could refer it to the king’s court and be guaranteed a fair hearing.
Basically, he brought in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ premise.
When towns offered him gifts of money on his Royal Progress, he refused saying he would rather have their love than their money.
He died defending his crown his realm and his life in the most honourable and courageous way but his death was just the beginning; the Tudors painted him a villain and his good works were largely forgotten. It is time his reputation was restored.
Happy 563rd Birthday, Richard!