5 Myths About Richard III

Richard of Gloucester, better known as Richard III, ruled England from 1483 until his death in 1485 at the battle of Bosworth. Most of our impressions about what kind of man and king he was are rooted in how he is represented in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, which was largely based on the propaganda of the Tudor family.

However, facts about the much-maligned regent don’t always match up to his fictional portrayals.

Here are 5 myths about Richard III that are either inaccurate, unknowable or just plane untrue.

facts about richard III

Engraving of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth

1. He Was An Unpopular King

The impression we have of Richard as an evil and treacherous man with a murderous ambition mostly comes from Shakespeare. Yet he was probably more or less well liked.

While Richard was certainly no angel, he enacted reforms that improved the lives of his subjects, including the translation of laws into English and making the legal system more fair. His defence of the North during the rule of his brother also improved his standing among the people. Furthermore, his assumption of the throne was approved by Parliament and the rebellion he faced was a typical occurrence for a monarch at the time.

2. He Was a Hunchback With a Shrivelled Arm

There are some Tudor references to Richard’s shoulders being somewhat uneven, and the examination of his spine shows evidence of scoliosis, yet none of the accounts from his coronation mention any such physical characteristics. More proof of posthumous character assassination are x-rays of portraits of Richard that show they were altered to have him appear hunchbacked. At least one contemporary portrait shows no deformities.

3. He Killed the Two Princes in the Tower

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The Princes in the Tower

After the death of their father, Edward IV, Richard lodged his two nephews — Edward the V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury — in the Tower of London in preparation for Edward’s coronation. Instead, Richard became king and the two princes were never seen again.

Though Richard certainly had a motive to kill them, there has never been any evidence discovered that he did, nor that the princes were even murdered. There are also other suspects, such as Richard III’s ally Henry Stafford and Henry Tudor, who executed other claimants to the throne. In the following years at least two people claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, leading some to believe that the princes were never murdered.

4. Richard III Was a Bad Ruler

Like the claims of unpopularity, evidence does not support this assertion, which is mostly founded upon the opinions and contentions of the Tudors. Evidence suggests that Richard was an open-minded regent and talented administrator. In his brief reign he encouraged foreign trade and the growth of the printing industry as well as establishing — under his brother’s rule —the Council of the North, which lasted until 1641.

5. Richard Poisoned His Wife

Anne Neville was Queen of England for most of her husband’s reign, but died in March 1485, 5 months before Richard III’s death on the battlefield. By contemporary accounts the cause of Anne’s death was tuberculosis, which was common at the time.

Though Richard grieved publicly for his deceased wife, there were rumours that he poisoned her in order to marry Elizabeth of York, but what evidence we have generally refutes this, as Richard sent Elizabeth away and even later negotiated for her marriage with the future King of Portugal, Manuel I.

myths about richard iii

An 1890 painting of Anne Neville and a hunchbacked Richard III

Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to asiancorrespondent.com and latincorrespondent.com.