Richard III’S sense of al­le­giance was both heart­felt and prag­mat­i­cally dis­pos­able


Richard’s per­sonal motto “Loy­aulte me lie” (“Loy­alty Binds Me”) is some­times con­sid­ered a his­toric irony. The virtue of loy­alty seems al­most laugh­able con­sid­er­ing that he likely or­dered the deaths of his neph­ews, Ed­ward V and his brother Richard, the Duke of York, af­ter usurp­ing the crown. How­ever, Richard was of­ten true to his motto and to un­der­stand him bet­ter we need to learn why loy­alty was, im­por­tant to him.

De­spite the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the Princes in the Tower, Richard showed few signs of dis­loy­alty to his York­ist fam­ily be­fore 1483. He ven­er­ated the me­mory of his fa­ther and was also gen­uinely dev­as­tated when his wife and son died in close suc­ces­sion be­tween 1484-85.

Richard’s great­est of dis­play of loy­alty was to his brother Ed­ward IV. It never wa­vered de­spite the fact that Richard was ed­u­cated in the house­hold of War­wick the King­maker who later be­trayed Ed­ward and briefly de­posed him. Richard shared his brother’s ex­ile and fought as his right-hand man at Bar­net and Tewkes­bury be­fore be­com­ing his stead­fast rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the north of Eng­land.

His loy­alty was in marked con­trast to his elder brother

Ge­orge, Duke of Clarence.

De­spite be­ing a

York­ist, Clarence de­fected to the

Lan­cas­tri­ans and was later con­victed of trea­son and ex­e­cuted on Ed­ward’s or­ders. It is gen­er­ally agreed that Richard played no part in his brother’s mur­der and may even have tried to save him.

Nev­er­the­less, these marked dis­plays of fa­mil­ial loy­alty may iron­i­cally have led Richard to usurp the throne from his nephew in 1483. His pri­mary loy­alty was to his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of how the king­dom should be ruled. Richard had grown up in an Eng­land that was ravaged by civil war and he had gov­erned fairly in the north to re­store the peace.

He may have be­lieved that a strong monar­chy could not ex­ist while a child was on the throne. In Richard’s view, the 12-year-old Ed­ward V could be ma­nip­u­lated by his schem­ing Woodville re­la­tions and that could not be al­lowed to fur­ther desta­bilise the king­dom.

Usurpa­tion was not un­usual in the Mid­dle Ages and it is likely that Richard took the throne out of a com­bi­na­tion of des­per­ate mo­tives, op­por­tu­nity and self-preser­va­tion.

Hard though it may be to un­der­stand,

Richard’s ac­tions to­wards the Princes in the Tower were not borne out of per­sonal mal­ice. To use Oliver Cromwell’s phrase, it was prob­a­bly ‘cruel ne­ces­sity’ that drove Richard in 1483.

It is pos­si­ble that Richard was loyal to a vi­sion of York­ist Eng­land that ne­ces­si­tated mak­ing prag­mat­i­cally cruel de­ci­sions for na­tional sta­bil­ity. How­ever, if that re­quired the mur­der of chil­dren then it is not sur­pris­ing that Richard’s con­cept of loy­alty comes un­der such se­vere


Com­pared to his treach­er­ous brother Ge­orge, Duke of Clarence, Richard’s loy­alty to his brother Ed­ward IV was un­ques­tion­ableThe im­pris­on­ment and dis­ap­pear­ance of the Princes in the Tower is the most con­tro­ver­sial event of Richard’s life and is the big­gest ques­tion mark over his fam­ily loy­alty Richard was deeply loyal to his wife and queen Anne Neville. His grief was pro­found when both Anne and their son Ed­ward died

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