A scholarship created in memory of a Yorkshire historian could help unveil the true mystery behind England's most controversial Yorkist monarch. Martin Hickes reports.
THE SEARCH is on for the truth behind one of Yorkshire and Britain’s most enduring Royal mysteries.
Every history scholar knows the story behind the Yorkist monarch Richard III - the alleged hunchbacked, scheming monarch and eponymous Shakespearean subject from the turbulent Wars of the Roses period. Or so it seems.
Now a group of devotees from the highly-respected Richard III Foundation Inc, is hoping to fathom out the truth once and for all about Richard’s shady past.
The group is offering up a special bursary – named specially in memory of a late Yorkshire member of the society – in a bid to seek out the real story behind Richard’s reign.
Shakespeare, among other chroniclers of the time, 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.
Amongst other clever plotting at the height the intrigue of medieval England, key among his dark deeds are alleged to be the deaths of the so-called Princes in the Tower, Edward V of England and his brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York who were the only sons of the Yorkist Edward IV of England.
Both princes were declared illegitimate by an Act of Parliament of 1483 known as Titulus Regius, believed by some to be ushered in by Richard, who later assumed the throne as Richard III.
Their fate, and the true identity of their murderer remains disputed, however. Many historians have until recently presumed that they either died or were killed in the Tower of London in 1483 by Richard.
Richard, of the House of York, is also credited with other machinations – including a hand in the deaths of other English nobles at the time of the famous rivalries between the Houses of York and Lancaster, both of which vied for the English throne.
But now, thanks to a scholarship legacy from a late Yorkshire historical devotee and member of the Richard III Foundation, it is hoped the ‘truth’ might soon be revealed.
The group, a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to research into the life and reign of Richard III, has launched a student program, The John Davey Research Grant for Medieval Studies.
The grant will be awarded annually to a deserving applicant currently studying an aspect of English history dating from the Ricardian period (1450-1485).
Candidates must be engaged in ongoing research projects designed to increase the historical understanding of King Richard III and his era.
The grant is named after John Davey, a patron of the Foundation, who passed away in 2006.
Joe Ann Ricca, President and CEO of the Foundation, hopes the grant, as well as commemorating a friend and historian, will help shed more light on the darkest - and most hotly disputed - chapter of medieval English history:
“Founded in 1994, our mission is to study, share and stimulate interest in the life and times of King Richard III and the Wars of the Roses.
“The Richard III Foundation, Inc is the only Ricardian organization which does not take a neutral view in their defence of King Richard III.
“Through the combined efforts of research and scholarship, the Yorkist period has been shown to be one of progress and enlightened government.
“Our aspirations are to provide a focal point for people who share a fascination into this dynamic period of history. Through continuous research, our work is to identify and translate documents and text that shed new insight into this important period of history.
“It is our sense of injustice to the reputation of King Richard III that we believe the truth is worth fighting for.
“It is our view that the reign of Henry VII - Richard's successor - was not the golden age his writers proclaimed. Rumours and Yorkist pretenders plagued his reign.
“Henry wanted to glorify the Tudors and justify his kingship. 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 under Tudor began a campaign to blacken Richard's name and reputation.
“With the even later accession of James I, after Elizabeth I, his defenders began to speak out, and into the present day, the defenders of King Richard III continue to speak out in his defence.
“King Richard III appealed to the ideals of loyalty, lordship and honor. 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.
“Sir Clements Markham stated: ‘The true picture of our last Plantagenet king is not unpleasant to look upon, when the accumulated garbage and filth of centuries of calumny have been cleared off the surface’.
“The handiwork of the Tudor historians against this much maligned monarch can be summed up best in Paul Murray Kendall's 1955 biography - "What a tribute this is for art - what a misfortune this is for history".
“This grant will help to continue shining a light onto an often misunderstood period in history.
“John Davey, from Sherburn in Elmet, was a great friend and a remarkable man. 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 honor him and his contribution to not only the Foundation, but also to our knowledge of King Richard III and the Yorkist period.
“Adamant in his belief that history was more than just dry words and dusty tomes, John 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 Horace Walpole, Josephine Tey and Valerie Anand are among writers who have argued that Richard III was innocent in the death of the Princes.
Sharon K Penman, in her historical novel The Sunne in Splendour, also portrays Richard III as a just and honest ruler and attributes the death of the Princes to the Duke of Buckingham.
And it may be 500 years since he died, but the scholarship is perhaps emblematic, if nothing else, of the vehement strength of the debate which still rages internationally over the late king's status.
What is known for certain is that on 1 November 1461, Richard gained the title of Duke of Gloucester; sometime before 4 February 1466, he was invested as a Knight of the Garter. Following the death of King Edward IV, he was made Lord Protector of England. Richard held this office from 30 April 1483 to 26 June 1483 when he made himself king of the realm.
But despite achieving the throne, he was butchered when surrounded by knights in a muddy bog at Bosworth Field in 1485, allegedly crying treason, and for a horse for a mount to safety.
He was succeeded by Henry VII, the first of the Tudor kings, who united the Yorkist and Lancastrian Roses in his emblem.
Various other historical groups and societies also exist which posit pro, neutral and anti-Richard stances, underlining the fierce debate which still rages over England's most controversial king.
· Middleham Castle was in the possession of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick when his young cousin Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III ) came to learn the skills of knighthood in 1462. During the Wars of the Roses, both Edward IV and Henry VI were held prisoner there.
· Richard, Duke of Gloucester became master of the castle in 1471 after Warwick died at the Battle of Barnet.
· The Scholarship is intended to help a student meet the costs of research and/or living expenses. The successful applicant must be able to provide evidence of both academic excellence and financial need.
· Applications and additional information regarding the program can be obtained at R3FoundationScholarship@yahoo.com. Deadline for application is July 1, 2011.
· For more information regarding The Richard III Foundation, Inc., visit their website at www.richard111.com. Among its patrons is actor Robert Hardy CBE.