Twitter was how I first became acquainted with Matthew, it was during those exciting months of 2013 when every Ricardian's eyes were glued to their Twitter feed, waiting for the next update following the find, in Leicester, of the remains of Richard III. During the following four years, Matthew became the author of a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. This year he published a much-needed biography of Richard, Duke of York.
Matthew never keeps his wealth of knowledge to himself, and I am pleased to say that he has very kindly agreed to write an article on Richard III, the last English king to be killed in battle, on the anniversary of his birth, this day in 1452.
Some time between 1455 and 1460, a poem was written detailing the multitude of children that Richard, Duke of York and his wife Cecily Neville had been blessed with, though many had not survived infancy. The last portion of the poem ran;
Which both be passed to God’s grace.
George was next, and after Thomas
Born was, which son after did pace
By the path of death to the heavenly place.
Richard liveth yet; but the last of all
Was Ursula, to Him whom God didst call.
Richard was born on 2 October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, the traditional seat of power of the House of York where baby Richard’s great-uncle Edward, 2nd Duke of York had invested extensively, making additions to the nearby Church of St Mary and All Saints. The phrase ‘Richard liveth yet’ has been used to suggest that the last surviving child of the couple was sickly and there was concern that he might not survive but there is no other contemporary record of him being ill after birth and the line seems more likely a reference to the fact that he was not yet old enough to be considered out of danger, especially given that only one other of the six children listed, George, had survived.
As trouble within England escalated, York began preparations for another military effort to assert his position. By this point, York was basing himself at Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border. It was closer to the powerbase he owed to his Mortimer heritage and was a much stouter fortress than the family home a Fotheringhay. It is a mark of the mounting tensions that York decided to move his family to the safety of Ludlow too. Anne and Elizabeth, Richard’s sisters, were both married, but this is the first time that the rest of the Yorkist family were recorded as being in the same place at the same time. Along with the duke and his wife were their sons Edward, Earl of March (later King Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, Margaret (later Duchess of Burgundy), George (later Duke of Clarence) and Richard. Also arriving at the castle and swelling the armed force there was York’s brother-in-law Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and his famous son the Earl of Warwick. The preparations must have been exciting for the six-year-old Richard, who had his seventh birthday amidst the soldiers, sparring sessions and other hustle and bustle of a town full of men on a war footing. It seems doubtful that his birthday saw much celebration and a few days later his father and two oldest brothers left, heading toward London to confront the king. Within a couple of days they were back, made nervous by the presence of Henry himself at the head of an army marching toward them.
The other birthday that tells us a great deal about Richard and may have left a mark on him is his eighteenth. During 1469 and 1470, Richard’s brother, now King Edward IV, had been losing his grip on power as his relationship with the Earl of Warwick disintegrated. In September 1470 a northern uprising pressed south as Warwick and Richard’s other brother George raised opposition in the south. Edward had only a small number of men with him as the snare threatened to snap shut on him. The group pushed east, reaching Lynn, where they managed to obtain passage to Burgundy. Richard was with his brother the king but it seems unthinkable that he had not been courted by Warwick and George in their opposition to Edward. Richard had spent his teenage years in Warwick’s household and had grown up with George, so he was probably closer to those two men that to Edward. If Warwick and George did make contact, the answer they received is clear. As Edward took ship for exile in Burgundy, effectively surrendering his crown and travelling into uncertainty, Richard boarded with him and doesn’t appear to have thought twice. The ship set sail into an unknown future on 2 October 1470, Richard’s eighteenth birthday. It can’t have been a fun way to spend a milestone in his life, but he demonstrated his unconditional loyalty to his oldest brother and king.
Richard would die at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, six weeks short of his thirty-third birthday. He is remembered for his two years as king and the way in which he obtained the crown to the exclusion of his years of service to his brother, but a glimpse at three of his birthdays gives us an insight into the pressures and influences that contributed to shaping this fascinating man. Born into uncertainty, abandoned to an enemy army and willing to spend his birthday on a voyage into exile for the sake of loyalty, Richard divides opinion in many ways and will continue to do so. To some he is a monster, to some a hero and to others simply a man trying to survive difficult times. Whatever view of Richard III you subscribe to, it should be influenced by an understanding that he was a very real man, the product of his upbringing and the influences that surrounded him. An extreme view is unlikely to be accurate so understanding the subtleties of his character requires an appreciation of the subtle impacts of moments such as these, falling around a few of his birthdays. They are small pieces of a large jigsaw that can be endlessly fascinating.
I would like to thank Matthew for writing, at very short notice, this guest blog and supplying me with the above photographs.
Matthew's latest book on Richard III - Richard III (Fact and Fictions) was published in 2019. He is also the author of a book on Henry III and another on the reign of Stephen and Matilda. Matthew also has a website, runs a blog and as previously mentioned can be found on Twitter.