See also the page on sources
The main contemporary sources from which we draw our information are listed at the end of this page.
Writings during the Tudor period we now believe were heavily influenced by anti-Ricardian propaganda. The purpose of this was to justify Henry Tudor’s claim to have overthrown an alleged usurper, tyrant and child killer. The main 16th century secondary works by scholars were by Polydore Vergil, Thomas More and Edward Hall.
Thomas More’s History of King Richard III (1543). More may never have intended this to be published. The unfinished manuscript, written during the 1510’s in both Latin and English, was found amongst his papers after his execution and published in 1543. It begins very strangely with errors of fact about Edward IV’s age and the lives of two of his daughters. It is as though he is writing from inaccurate hearsay. The source of his story may have been the elderly Archbishop John Morton who had known Richard III well, was imprisoned by him, and in whose house the young Thomas More was placed for his education in the early 1490’s.
The coup de grace was delivered by William Shakespeare in his Play Richard III written around 1593 in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Henry VII and the last Tudor monarch. This portrays Richard as a physically mis-shapen, scheming murderer who stops at nothing to become king. This artistic creation has coloured the impressions of generations of playgoers ever since. Sir George Buc (Buck) (Master of the Revels under James 1) wrote a revision of More & Shakespeare in 1619, History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third, using the Crowland Chronicle, but not published until 1646, after his death. This set in motion the rehabilitation of Richard III.
Buc’s work was read a century later by Horace Walpole (son of the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole) who wrote and published a critique of More’s History as Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of Richard the Third (1768). Walpole came in for a great deal of criticism and sarcasm from literary and antiquarian circles for his challenge to complacent orthodoxy including eminent writers such as Carlisle, Gibbon and Hume. Nevertheless, Walpole had reignited public interest. In the nineteenth century more books began to appear, questioning the orthodox Tudor history and by the twentieth century more rigorous analysis of 15th century documents was beginning to take place. The Richard III Society, founded in 1924, has the mission to reassess the traditional account of the life and times of Richard III. The Society has Branches and Groups both in the UK and overseas, mainly in the English speaking world, promoting discussion of the 15th century, arranging formal meetings and social events.The Richard III Society publishes The Ricardian , an annual journal of academic articles and book reviews, and the Ricardian Bulletin, a quarterly magazine, with short articles and letters from members. In addition the Society commissions and publishes research work on the period.
The Richard III Society Barton Library contains many more resources available to members.
A work of fiction published in the 1950’s and which continues to introduce many readers to the Ricardian case is Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.
The late 20th and early 21st century has seen an explosion of public interest in medieval history through the media of television, film and popular books. This was given a huge boost by the rediscovery of Richard’s skeleton under a car park in Leicester in 2012. That monumental discovery has inspired permanent exhibitions such as:
For sixth formers, Keith Dockray has published several books of source documents which include relevant extracts from some of the following.