Was Richard III a loyal brother or murderous tyrant? 60 seconds with Chris Skidmore

Since his discovery in a Leicestershire car park in 2012, Richard III has been one of the most talked about historical figures in modern times. At our Winchester History Weekend this October, historian and politician Chris Skidmore will explore who the king really was, examining his path to power and dwelling on the mysterious fate of the Princes in the Tower...

Chris Skidmore.

Ahead of his talk, 'Richard III: Loyal Brother or Murderous Tyrant?', we caught up with Chris to find out more…

 

Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk?

A: I will have just published my new biography, Richard III: Brother, Protector, King – the talk will be focusing on a crucial period in Richard’s life, when he is faced with the death of his brother Edward IV. Eighty-eight days later, Richard himself succeeded as king. It is an intense period of high drama, that ends with the disappearance of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York. I will be attempting to unravel in the talk what exactly went on – did Richard plan to seize the throne from the start, or was it really more of a cock-up than a conspiracy?

 

Q: Why are you so fascinated by this topic?

A: Richard III is widely regarded as one of our most controversial monarchs, and I’m fascinated by how he has the potential to polarise opinion, between the so-called ‘black legend’ of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and his ‘Ricardian’ defenders. 

I’ve tried to look afresh at the king’s life and reign, to get away from this traditional paradigm. But Richard himself also leads an action-packed life of drama that makes his story so compelling: a younger brother with few prospects, he is exiled twice, fights his first battles as a general aged only 18, is a loyal brother to King Edward IV and yet deposes his nephew Edward V to take the crown for himself. Why he does so is such an enigma. 

This was one of the reasons that I was drawn to write a full-length narrative biography of the king – something that hasn’t really been attempted since Paul Murray Kendall’s 1955 biography. 


Richard III, king of England from 1483 until his death in 1485. (SuperStock/Getty)

 

Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about this area of history.

A: I think I’m always surprised when I reflect that Richard died aged only 32 years old (and 10 months and 21 days to be exact). Most people familiar with the Richard of Shakespeare’s legend imagine the king to have been much older. 

 

Q: If you could go back in time to meet one historical figure, who would you choose and why? 

A: Richard III would be the obvious candidate, but I would love to see what Henry Tudor was like in real life, and whether he really did live up to the serious figure of history. Otherwise, it would be Henry, Duke of Buckingham – why did he really support Richard III and then turn against him so suddenly only a few months later?

 

Q: If you could go back in time to witness one moment in history, what would you choose and why?

Probably to have been a witness to what exactly went on at the battle of Bosworth – how Richard III lost the battle when he had around 15,000 men to Henry Tudor’s 5,000 men is one of the greatest upsets in history. 

In my book, Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors, I look at whether the sources we use actually hypothesise a battle along textbook military manoeuvres – no one seems to have recorded the precise chronology of events in the melee. Did the earl of Northumberland desert Richard, or was he unable to move due to a marsh being in his way? And who killed Richard III?

 

Q: What historical mystery would you most like to solve?

A: The fate of the Princes in the Tower is undoubtedly one of the greatest mysteries in 15th-century history. I’d love to be able to find some kind of new evidence that would help solve or provide a better understanding to their fate, as I did with Amy Robsart’s death in my Death and the Virgin


The 'Princes in the Tower' were the two sons of Edward IV: Edward V (1470-1483) and Richard of Shrewsbury (1473-1483). Shortly after Edward was crowned Edward V, he and his brother disappeared and were never seen alive again. (The Print Collector/Getty)

 

Q: What job do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t a historian/author?

A: My history writing is now my hobby – my real full time job is actually as Member of Parliament for Kingswood near Bristol, and as minister for the constitution in the Cabinet Office.

Chris Skidmore is the author of several books on late medieval and Tudor England, including a new narrative biography: Richard III: Brother, Protector, King. Chris will be speaking about Richard III at BBC History Magazine's Winchester History Weekend on Sunday 8 October.

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