Continuing the quest for truth about reign of Richard III

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A scholarship in memory of a Yorkshire historian could help reveal the truth behind England’s most controversial king. Martin Hickes reports.

Every history scholar knows the story behind Richard III, the alleged hunchbacked, scheming monarch and eponymous Shakespearean subject from the turbulent Wars of the Roses period. Or so it seems.

As with most figures from the past, the truth probably falls some way short of the caricature and after spending the last 15 years trying to fathom out the reality of Richard’s shady past, a group of devotees from the Richard III Foundation Inc have now launched a special bursary – named specially in memory of a late Yorkshire member of the society – in an attempt to seek out the real story his reign.

Certainly, Richard III has not enjoyed the best of reputations. Shakespeare had it that the infamous Yorkist monarch – formerly Richard, Duke of Gloucester – had many an opponent murdered to gain access to the throne of England, the deaths of the so-called Princes in the Tower high on the list of his alleged dark deeds.

However, in recent years many of the stories which surrounded Richard for centuries have been disputed and thanks to the scholarship named after the organisation’s former patron John Davey, from Sherburn in Elmet, it is hoped a more accurate picture of the king might soon be revealed.

“The grant will be awarded to a deserving applicant whose research will increase the historical understanding of this most hotly disputed chapter in English history,” says foundation president Joe Ann Ricca. “It is our view that the reign of Henry VII – Richard’s successor – was not the golden age his writers proclaimed. In the Tudor view of English history, the coming of Henry VII saved England from disorder, bloodshed and evil, as personified by the king Henry had defeated. Thus chroniclers and historians began a campaign to blacken Richard’s name and reputation.

“In fact, King Richard III appealed to the ideals of loyalty, lordship and honour. He knew how to command, how to reward, but most of all, he knew how to inspire and he set up many important institutions in the North of England. This grant will help to continue shining a light onto an often misunderstood period in history.”

All that is known for certain is that on November 1,1461, Richard gained the title of Duke of Gloucester. Sometime before February 4, 1466, he was invested as a Knight of the Garter and following the death of King Edward IV, he was made Lord Protector of England. Richard held this office for a little less than three months before making himself king of the realm. It wasn’t an entirely happy reign and two years later he was butchered when surrounded by knights in a muddy bog at Bosworth Field in 1485, allegedly crying treason, and apparently prepared to swap his kingdom for a horse.

He was succeeded by Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, who united the Yorkist and Lancastrian Roses in his emblem, but ever since a fierce debate has raged on over the man who was arguably England’s most controversial king.

“John Davey was a great friend and a remarkable man,” adds Joe Ann. “He always told me to remain loyal to the truth, and naming the grant after him is one of the best ways I feel we can honour him and his contribution to not only the foundation, but also to our knowledge of King Richard III and the Yorkist period.

“He was adamant in his belief that history was more than just dry words and dusty tomes and continually encouraged people to look beyond the obvious. ‘History is not about books and dates,’ he wrote. ‘It is about… living, breathing people with all the faults and flaws, gifts and glamour that we see today. We need to dig and claw…until we can decipher what is the truth and what is fabricated’.

“Working to identify and translate documents and text that provide insight into an important period in history, The John Davey Research Grant for Medieval Studies will play a valuable and important role in historians quest for the truth. After 500 years, we believe the truth is still worth fighting for.”

Novelists from Horace Walpole to Josephine Tey and Valerie Anand are among writers who have argued that Richard III was innocent in the death of the Princes and while it may be 500 years since he died, this new scholarship is proof, if nothing else, of the vehement strength of the debate which still rages internationally over the late king’s status.

For more details about the work of the Richard III Foundation, visit