Why was Richard III defeated?


Buckingham's Rebellion and Henry Tudor

Opposition began in the first few weeks of Richard's reign:

1) There was a plot to rescue Edward IV's daughters from sanctuary and an attempt to rescue the Princes. The involvement of John Cheney, Edward IV's Master of the Horse and standard bearer was a clear sign that Edward IV's household men were still shocked by the execution of their leader, Hastings. Richard had hoped these men would be his core support, but they regarded him as a usurper and were prepared to fight to restore Edward V.

2) In August many believed the Princes were already dead, so the rebels sought an alternative candidate for the crown. Henry became the new Yorkist candidate for the crown. 

3) By October, rebellion had spread right across the south. Leading gentry in nearly every county from Cornwall to Kent were involved. The Woodvilles were involved. Most people were motivated by the outrage at the deposition and disappearance of Edward V and his brother Richard. However, the rebellion failed dismally. One reason was the extreme difficulty of co-ordinating a rising across the whole of the south. Richard was also very well prepared. Also, some potential rebels didn't join in i.e. Buckingham (despite the name of the rebellion he didn't join until very late on). 


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Buckingham's rebellion & Henry Tudor (2)

Buckingham finally joined the rebellion because he probably thought Richard was going to be overthrown. His arrival actually weakened the rebelllion. The rebels had been waiting for support from the powerful Talbot and Stanley families but when they heard Buckingham had joined they decided to stay out due to rivalries over land. (For them one of the attractions of joining the rebellion was taking Buckingham's land, so they weren't going to fight on his side!)

By the time Henry's ship had neared the coast, the rebellion had failed.

  • Buckingham was executed.
  • Henry sailed back to Brittany where he was joined by 400 rebels

Despite the rebellion's failure, it did affect Richard's chance of keeping the crown:

1) It established Henry as a rival for the crown. He was now bethrothed to marry Elizabeth of York, a clear sign he was a Yorkist candidate.

2) The flight of rebels to Brittany gave Henry a core group of supporters, inc. John Cheney and Giles Daubeney. Many of those who stayed in England would follow these men if they returned to head an invasion. 

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The planting of Northerners in the South

A significant number of rebels had fled abroad to Brittany and these men had previously made local government work in their counties, acting as judges, sheriffs etc. Now there were gaps in the network in almost every southern county. In addition, could Richard trust the gentry that were still in England, the friends and neighbours of the rebels?

Richard's solution was to use men from his own affinity (northerners). At first he chose to fill these gaps with men who had connections with the south through marriage. However there was not enough northeners with such links, so Richard had to import complete outsiders. Their presence aroused great hostility. The gentry in each county were deeply shocked. They had made up a close-knit community but now there were outsiders in their counties, men they saw as Richard's spies. 

This planting demonstrates that Richard was not in control of events. Richard was having to react, to make second-best choices, hoping they didn't make the situation worse. 

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Richard's rivalry with northern lords

Two leading nothern families felt threated by Richard's dominance.

1) The Stanleys - They had clashed with Richard since 1469, over the Stanley's fight with the Harringtons for possesion of Hornby Castle. Richard supported the Harringtons but Edward IV intervened to end any chances of fighting. Once king however, Richard was eager to settle the argument in the Harrington's favour, giving the Stanleys a reason to fight against Richard.

2) The Percies - Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland had hoped to be a leading power in the north when Richard became king. However, Richard promoted his nephew, the Earl of Lincoln, an outsider to the region. If Henry Tudor invaded, could Richard depend on Northumberland's loyalty? 

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Dependence on few advisers.

 Ruling through a small, unrepresentative group of 'favourites' was very damaging:

  • William Catesby 
  • Richard Ratcliffe (recieved a rich haul of lands in Devon)
  • Francis, Lord Lovell
  • Robert Brackenbury
  • James Tyrell
  • John Howard (made Duke of Norfolk by Richard)

Richard had not intended to be dependent on this small group but the autumn rebellion had forced this situation on him. 

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Death of Anne Neville & his heir

Richard's only son died in 1484. Without an heir there was no continuity and it would be at least 15 years before a new born son would become an adult. 

In March 1485, Richard's wife, Anne Neville had died, meaning that he would have to marry again soon to have an heir. Several rumours followed:

  • Richard now intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. 
  • Richard had poisoned Anne so that he could marry Elizabeth, thus stopping her marrying Henry and so diminishing his claim to be Edward IV's natural successor. 

These rumours tell us several things:

  • Richard's reputation was so bad after the disappearance of the princes that people could believe he would poison his wife. 
  • He was so heavily dependent on his northern support that them threatening to abandon him was detrimental.  
  • He was so desperate to end the combined York-Woodville-Beaufort-Tudor threat that marriage to his niece was even considered.

These deaths could have made men wonder if Richard was worth supporting. 

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French support for Henry Tudor

An invasion from Henry looked increasingly threatening because by 1485 because of events in France and Brittany. Brittany was an independent dukedom and the Duke wanted English aid to for his fight to retain independence from France. This had led to a marriage arrangement between Edward V and Anne of Brittany, the Duke's daughter. When Edward V disappeared, the Duke was alarmed and re-negotiated with Richard for English help in Brittany. Richard asked for Henry in return. 

Henry heard these rumours and fled to France to avoid being handed over to Richard. Henry was welcomed in France because the government was concerned that Richard might attack France. Thus, France supported Henry in order to distract Richard from launching an invasion. 

The news that France was supporting Henry encouraged a number of defections from Richard to Henry late in 1484. Even more importantly, France provided Henry with military help: a fleet of ships to transport around 4000 soldiers, including over 2000 French soldiers and 1000 Scots from the King of France's guard.

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Events at Bosworth (22/08/1485)

Henry's invasion force can be described as an anti-Richard alliance of former members of Edward IV's household, French and Scottish soldiers, and some former Lancastrians i.e. Earl of Oxford. As he marched into England his force grew, inc. Walter Hungerford and Thomas Bourchier, who'd been rebels at Buckingham's rebellion and now saw a second chance to defeat Richard. 

Richard had the larger force. The Stanleys forces were also nearby. Richard had tried to ensure they didn't join Henry by taking Lord Stanley's son as a hostage. 

Richard's cavarly charge at the head of his household knights brough him close enough to exchange blows with Henry before Stanley's forces intervened and Richard was killed. Northumberland didn't join on either side, perhaps because of his anger with Richard. (See Richard's rivalry with northern lords) 

Richard, Norfolk, Ratcliffe & Brackenbury were all killed. Henry Tudor was now King Henry VII. 

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Overall: Why was Richard defeated?

Richard had made success very difficult for himself. When he became Protector, he claimed to represent continuity from his brother, he then destroyed that continuity with the deposition of Edward V. His hopes that his brother's household would become the heart of his support then disappeared when they rebelled after the disappearance of the Princes. The rebellion then led him to plant his own supporters in the south, creating further opposition. His dependence on a narrow group of supporters, dominated by his own northern affinity, continued that opposition. The disappearance of the Princes even fuelled the French belief that Richard was an aggressive king who planned an invasion of France, and there's no doubt that French support played a major part in Henry's success. 

Was Richard doomed by the disappearance of the Princes? 

No - Richard would have been toppled in the 1483 rebellion. Secondly, if events within France had gone differently France might not have supported Henry, leaving him without support for an invasion. Thirdly, Richard could have won at Bosworth. If Stanley's charge had been delayed by a few minutes Richard might have killed Henry and ended the battle in victory. Success at Bosworth would then have given him the chance to establish himself, plus the ability to claim God's approval for the victory. BUT Richard lost at Bosworth, and Henry would never have become a rival for the crown had Richard not took the crown the way he did. 

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