Date of Award
Union College Only
Bachelor of Arts
richard, richard’s, history, princes, sources
This thesis examines the historical controversy surrounding the life and character of the fifteenth-century king of England, Richard III. Richard III has been a controversial figure in history since the first months following his accession to the throne of England in 1483. Central to the historical debate over Richard is his alleged involvement in the murder of his young nephews in order to usurp the crown. Richard’s history is placed in context with an overview of Yorkist involvement in the Wars of the Roses. The thesis then examines the history of the debate over Richard’s guilt or innocence from the fifteenth century up to the modern era. For 500 years amateur historians have battled professionals to revise the standard history of Richard’s life and depict him in a more sympathetic light. Today the revisionist cause is spearheaded by the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to defending the “truth” about Richard. Contemporary sources only report that rumors circulated through London that Richard had murdered his nephews. The authors of these sources admit in their accounts that the actual fate of the princes was unknown to them. They only reported knowing that the princes had been withdrawn from public sight and their closest aides had been dismissed. Their belief that the princes had been murdered was based solely on rumor and speculation at the time. Later sources definitively reported that Richard was responsible for the disappearance and murder of the princes. However, these Tudor accounts are presumed to be biased since they were written during the reign of Richard’s rival and successor, Henry VII. Although such flaws in the evidence ensure that it is impossible to know with complete certainty whether Richard was guilty, after 500 years of scrutinizing the evidence, none of Richard’s defenders has produced a plausible alternative to Richard as the murder’s prime suspect. Moreover, none of the alleged suspects accused by Ricardians hold up to the strict evidentiary standard they demand from those condemning Richard. In 1933 of a pair of skeletons discovered in the Tower of London in the seventeenth century were exhumed and subjected to forensic analysis. Scientists have concluded that these skeletons are most likely those of the princes and prove that they died in 1483 shortly after Richard’s coronation in July. This discovery has disproved several alternative theories advocated by Ricardians. However, the evidentiary gap has made it possible for the debate over Richard III’s guilt to rage on and has ensured that it will not end without the discovery of new definitive evidence. Lastly, this thesis considers postmodern challenges to the process of historicization in the context of the debate over Richard III. Postmodernists question the concept of the singularity of history and challenge the methodological assumptions of factuality derived from primary sources and the ability of historians to represent history. Postmodernists consider facts as constructions and histories as interpretative rhetorical representations. The existence of multiple histories of Richard III derived from identical evidentiary sources underscores the fundamental challenges posed by postmodern theory. Though postmodern theory is not particularly constructive and does not offer a viable alternative to current methodological practices, postmodern questions demonstrate that the central question of Richard’s guilt or innocence is unanswerable. Accepting this conclusion, resources may be allocated to more important or significant historical questions concerning the fifteenth century beyond a murder mystery.
Youngman, Lauren O., "Richard III in history and postmodern theory" (2008). Honors Theses. 1507.