Richard III, last king of England of the Plantagenet line, born at Fotheringay castle, Oct. 2, 1452, killed at the battle of Bosworth field, Aug. 22, 1485. He was the eleventh child and eighth son of Richard, duke of York, and of his wife Cecily Neville, daughter of the earl of Westmoreland. The duke of York was descended in the female line from Lionel, duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III., and the English throne was held by Henry VI., great-grandson of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, Edward III.'s fourth son. York became the chief of that party which sought to set aside the line of Lancaster, but was defeated and captured at Wakefield at the close of 1460, and was immediately executed. His son Richard was a prisoner at the age of eight. On his father's death Richard was sent by his mother to Utrecht. When his eldest brother became king of England, in 1461, as Edward IV., Richard was brought home and made duke of Gloucester, and afterward lord high admiral and chief constable of England for life, and chief justice of South Wales. In 1470, during the rebellion of the earl of Warwick and the duke of Clarence (the king's brother George), the duke of Gloucester was appointed commissioner of array in Gloucestershire, Devonshire, and Cornwall, and in the same year warden of the northern marches.
In September he accompanied the king when he fled to Flanders because of the triumph of Warwick at the head of the Lancastrian party, and he was attainted and outlawed by parliament. When Edward returned Gloucester was in his train, and had the principal part in effecting that reconciliation between the king and Clarence which restored the throne to the house of York. At the battle of Barnet, April 14, 1471, Gloucester commanded the van of the Yorkist army, being in immediate opposition to Warwick, and by his conduct proved himself a skilful leader and a brave soldier, and contributed to the victory. The same post was assigned to him at the battle of Tewkesbury, 20 days later. In reward for his services, the king created him lord high chamberlain of England for life, and endowed him with a large number of manors and lordships that had belonged to the Nevilles, and several forfeited estates. He sought and found the lady Anne Neville, Warwick's youngest daughter, who had been betrothed to Prince Edward of Lancaster and concealed by her relatives, and married her about the month of March, 1472. He was a second time appointed lord high constable of England, and shortly afterward "keeper of all the king's forests beyond the Trent for life," and justiciary of North Wales, and took up his official residence at Pontefract castle, as chief seneschal of the duchy of Lancaster. Gloucester exerted his influence with the king to mitigate the horrors of the contests of those times, and especially in behalf of the Nevilles. In 1475 he accompanied Edward IV. in his invasion of France, and was the only Englishman of note in the army who was neither corrupted nor cajoled by Louis XI. On the execution of his brother Clarence, with which he had no connection, he received his possession of Barnard castle in Durham and his office of chamberlain; and he was constituted admiral of England, Ireland, and Aquitaine, and "one of the triers of petitions" in the parliament that met in 1478. War breaking out between England and Scotland, Gloucester was created lieutenant general of the kingdom, and in the summer of 1482 he took possession of Berwick, and penetrated to Edinburgh, at the head of a large army, and compelled the Scotch to accede to the terms of peace he proposed.
One of the king's last acts was to bestow upon his brother the wardenship of the west marches of England, the lordship of Carlisle with everything connected therewith, and a large sum of money. Edward IV. died April 9, 1483, and Richard, who was then in the north, prepared to go to London, and took the oath of allegiance to his nephew, Edward V., and compelled all who were under him also to take it. Hastening south, he seized the young king's person, and escorted him to the capital, having imprisoned Lords Rivers and Grey, and some other persons of the queen mother's party. Gloucester was appointed "protector and defender of the realm" by the council of state, which act parliament confirmed. He now resolved to make himself king, as the only alternative to becoming a victim of the queen mother's party. His proceedings are involved in much obscurity, but on June 13 Lord Hastings, the lord chamberlain, was suddenly seized at the tower by Gloucester's order and put to death, without even the form of a trial, on the charge of being concerned in a conspiracy against the protector and for the seizure of the government.
Hastings, to whom Gloucester was attached, was probably murdered because the latter knew that he would never be false to Edward V. The children of Edward IV. were declared illegitimate, because their father had entered into a contract with Lady Elinor Butler before he married Elizabeth Grey. The young king was set aside by the estates of the realm, by whom Gloucester was requested to ascend the vacant throne. He complied, and became king June 26, 1483, with the style and title of Richard III. No opposition was made to him, and his coronation took place July 6. But the people soon began to murmur because of the fate of the young princes. (See Edward V.) The duke of Buckingham, who had been the chief agent in Richard's elevation to the throne, entered into a conspiracy for his overthrow. The earl of Richmond, who was regarded as the head of the Lancastrian party, was to be made king, on condition that he espoused Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV. This conspiracy failed, and Buckingham was executed. The queen dowager was prevailed upon to leave sanctuary, in which she had taken refuge, and to place herself and family in Richard's hands. The parliament of 1484 confirmed the king's title, and settled the crown on his son Edward, prince of Wales; but that prince died immediately after.
Edward, earl of Warwick, son of the late duke of Clarence, was then named heir to the crown, but was soon set aside, and the earl of Lincoln, eldest son of the king's eldest living sister, the duchess of Suffolk, was substituted for him. Richard had now become very unpopular, because of the forced loans he had made, though his general legislation was good. The earl of Richmond, after several failures, resolved to make another attempt to gain the English crown. Assisted by the French government and by the duke of Brittany, he landed at Milford Haven Aug. 7, 1485. Richard had assembled a large army, and would have easily crushed his rival but for the infidelity of some of his nobles. The two armies met on Bosworth field, Aug. 22, and Lord Stanley went over to Richmond in the heat of the battle, while the earl of Northumberland, who commanded the second line of the royal army, stood aloof. Even then the king might have retrieved his fortune but for the conduct of Sir William Stanley, who had remained neutral until Richard had hewn his way to where Richmond stood, when he joined the Lancastrians at the head of 3,000 men. This decided the result of the battle.
Richard fell fighting bravely, declaring that he would die king of England. His body was basely treated by the victors, and was begged and buried by the nuns of Leicester in their chapel. Richard III. was the last of the Plantagenets, whose dynasty was succeeded by that of the Tudors.