Renaissance and Reformation Richard III
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0426


The youngest son of Richard, duke of York (b. 1411–d. 1460) and his duchess, Cecily Neville (b. 1415–d. 1495), was born on 2 October 1452, and named after his father: see Reference Works. York’s dynastic claim to the throne of England can be traced in Overviews and was made good by another son, who became King Edward IV in 1461, with Richard being made duke of Gloucester later that year. The duke married his maternal kinswoman Anne Neville (b. 1456–d. 1485), who gave birth to his only legitimate child, Edward of Middleham, at an unknown date. He distinguished himself as a soldier, principally in the Scottish campaign of 1482. Edward IV’s death on 9 April 1483 left the twelve-year-old Edward V as king and power in the hands of his maternal Woodville kinsmen. With the support of his brother-in-law Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, Gloucester engineered a coup, destroying the Woodville interest. In late June popular support was gained for the argument that neither Edward V nor his brother Richard, duke of York, were of legitimate birth, and that Gloucester, the only adult male of the ruling house, should assume the throne. He was crowned on 6 July. The fate of the two boys remained unknown while opposition to Richard III’s usurpation mounted, though the duke of Buckingham’s rebellion was quashed. The Contemporary Sources are frustratingly patchy, with rumor and speculation filling the gaps. Richard’s opponents regrouped around the little-known exile Henry Tudor (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article Henry VII), whose invasion in 1485 resulted in Richard’s defeat and death at Bosworth Field on 22 August. The king’s Disputed Reputation saw him cast as a consummate villain in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, with a dramatic reassessment following in the Seventeenth–Twentieth Centuries. There are numerous Modern Biographies of Richard and his family, but relatively few that need be employed for academic purposes. As with Overviews, the Journals section of this article features the work of the Richard III Society, while Collections of Papers are the preserve of academic historians. Domestic politics appears here as the King and His Subjects, Religion and Culture is self-explanatory, and Popes and Princes deals with international relations. The popularity and versatility of Shakespeare’s play means that a further section is devoted to Richard III in Popular Culture, and the posthumous history would have ended there had the king’s bones not been discovered in 2012 and reburied “with dignity and honour” three years later, so that archaeological discoveries are brought together from both Bosworth and Leicester.

Reference Works

There is no shortage of reference works relating to either the fifteenth century or the English/British monarchy, let alone to the cross between those two categories occupied by Richard III and his fellow sovereigns. However, for comprehensive coverage combined with ease of access, two stand out from that crowd: the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), for biographical entries on Richard and all the more significant figures in his story, and the Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) for regularly updated bibliographies relating to those individuals and their world. The ODNB also exists in print, whereas the BBIH is no longer available in that format. The English nobility looms large in Richard’s story and can be traced in detail in The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland. For those individuals, particularly clerics, who attained distinction through their own abilities, rather than accident of birth, there is Emden 1963, a guide to members of the University of Cambridge, in succession to the same author’s similar work on Oxford. Richard’s physical appearance has been of interest to historians: the National Portrait Gallery website includes resources relevant to such studies. The remaining citations in this section relate specifically to King Richard: Edwards 1983 is an itinerary published to coincide with the fifth centenary of his usurpation, and the website of the Richard III Society is a resource aimed at a wide readership but from which students can nevertheless glean a wealth of useful information.

  • Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH).

    This was formerly a print publication, but is now maintained exclusively online, being updated three times a year. It is a vitally important resource for any aspect and period of British and Irish history. Access is via the website of the publisher, Brepols. Searches can be done bibliographically or by subject, including places and persons. Alternatively, the subject tree allows users to home in on specific areas using progressively more detailed categories.

  • The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland. Edited by Vicary Gibbs. 13 vols. London: St. Catherine’s Press, 1910–1959.

    Originally compiled by George Edward Cockayne and published in 1887–1898, these volumes provide a comprehensive guide to the titled aristocracy who populate Richard III’s story, explaining how they were (inter)related. Now that Richard’s DNA has become part of that story, coverage of subsequent centuries is also useful. A volume of addenda and corrigenda was edited by the Ricardian scholar P. W. Hammond and published by Alan Sutton in 1982.

  • Edwards, Rhoda. Itinerary of King Richard III, 1483–85. London: Richard III Society, 1983.

    The fifth centenary of Richard’s relatively brief reign inspired diverse responses, including this itinerary, which has better survived the intervening technological revolution than has the televised trial of the king for the murder of his nephews (see Drewett and Redhead 1984, cited under Popular Culture). It has the potential to be a useful companion for students of the subject at any level.

  • Emden, Alfred Brotherston. A Biographical Register of the University of Cambridge to 1500. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

    Emden’s biographical registers trace the careers of members of both English universities up to 1500, but his single Cambridge volume may be slightly more revealing than the three Oxford volumes as far as men favored by Richard III are concerned, whether for secular offices or for major benefices. It was surely no coincidence that the chancellor of Oxford in 1483 was Lionel Woodville, bishop of Salisbury, a participant in Buckingham’s rebellion.

  • National Portrait Gallery.

    The website of the National Portrait Gallery associates Richard III with twenty-six different, but often related, images. Of these the best known is the late-16th-century oil painting by an anonymous artist, a work assumed to be descended from a likeness made in the king’s lifetime. Discussion of the painting has frequently centered on the imbalance of the shoulders.

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). 60 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    The entry on Richard III is available online by Rosemary Horrox and covers his life and posthumous reputation with both clarity and brevity. There are links to corresponding entries on Richard’s parents, wife, son, and other associates, to an essay on Yorkists by A. J. Pollard, available online, and to external resources. In addition, all the major figures of English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh history have their own entries, with supporting bibliographies.

  • Richard III Society.

    The Richard III Society traces its origins back to 1924, the Fellowship of the White Boar, and a mission to reassess the reputation of the king who was best known as Shakespeare’s witty villain. Academic historians were wary of its fanaticism, but common ground was found by means of the society’s conferences and publications. Its website is a gateway to all things Ricardian, including the journal of that name (cited under Journals).

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