by Sheilah O’Connor

January 1997

On August 22, 1485, Richard III faced the biggest test of his reign thus far. Henry Tudor, an upstart Lancastrian who claimed the throne on the strength of his maternal bastard blood, had come to do battle. He was accompanied by “beggarly” Bretons and “faynt-harted Frenchmen” to use Richard’s phrase. Tudor also had some Scots and Welshmen, but more worryingly, he had John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a seasoned commander, to lead his troops.

Richard had been preparing for this moment for almost a year but there is only so much a king can do when he does not have a standing army. Men are needed at home, to do the planting, reap the harvest. It cost a great deal of money to keep England at the ready for invasion and while Richard continually sent out commissions of array to prepare the country, when Tudor actually landed, he moved so quickly across the country that Richard could only muster a limited number of men for the battle. Still, he had probably twice as many soldiers as Henry Tudor.

Well, you all know how the battle ended. With a last great charge, Richard and his men broke through Henry’s protective circle and after chopping down standard-bearer William Brandon, Richard slew Henry himself.

Had it gone the other way, Henry would have been very uneasy upon his throne, for it’s estimated that there were about 29 people still living who had better claims to the throne than Tudor. So likely, Tudor wouldn’t have remained king for long. As it was, Richard’s policy of treating other possible claimants well, ensured that no one else tried to take his throne while he was alive.

Richard now had time to do other things with his life and one of the most important was to remarry. Within weeks of Queen Anne dying, the nobles had been pressing Richard on the subject of marriage. He had no direct heir and while he was still relatively young, everyone knew that like Edward IV, it was possible that Richard also might suddenly die. The choices for a new Queen were not in fact very plentiful, although it seemed that way at first. Many of the woman of the right lineage were too old, too young, or unwilling.

Joanna of Portugal seemed almost ideal and negotiations had started in April of 1485. She was the eldest daughter of King Alfonso V. Considered beautiful, pious and very capable politically, she had served as regent for her younger brother when her father had gone on an expedition. She was 8 months older than Richard, so theoretically still capable of bearing children, and she was a direct descendant of John of Gaunt. The only problem was that while her brother, John II, thought the marriage a great idea, Joanna only wanted to be a nun and in fact, except for when suitors came calling, she lived most of her life in a convent. John had been having problems with some of his nobles and wanted an alliance with Richard so that the English king would send over an army to help quell the rebels. Joanna continued to resist and so Richard had to look elsewhere.

The Infanta Isabella, eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, was 15 and another good choice. Isabella of Castile had re-opened communications with England when Richard had become king and there was a clear desire for closer ties between England and Spain on the part of the Spanish monarchs. Ferdinand was Richard’s age, Isabella, a year older and perhaps their daughter had been originally intended for Edward of Middleham, but after his death, and Anne’s, Richard was an obvious substitute. Since young Isabella was also descended from John of Gaunt, her lineage was clearly impeccable.

Other possibilities included Joan of Castile (the niece of Isabella of Castile) who had been betrothed and possibly married to her uncle, Alfonso V of Portugal. We don’t know much else about her.

Mary of Burgundy and Maxmilian had a daughter Margaret who was probably considered too young. Louis, the “Spider King”, had betrothed the Dauphin to her, but by 1485 Louis was dead and the betrothal ended. The young king of France, Charles, married another eligible woman, Anne of Brittany. As heir to the Duchy of Brittany, Anne had been betrothed to many important men, including Maxmilian, the future Holy Roman Emperor and it is likely that Richard took a good look at her, but since she was only 9 in 1485 it would have been too long before she was old enough to bear an heir to the throne.

There were many considerations to take into account. Were Richard to marry an heiress such as Anne of Brittany, he would be expected to fight France on behalf of Brittany. Portugal, Spain, Burgundy–all would expect support for their policies and this often translated into money and soldiers. Of concern also was the age of the potential bride; the future Queen of England was above all, a brood mare. Richard needed an heir…he had been fortunate once, in making what might have been a love match. His second marriage, as a reigning King of England, could only be political.

In 1485, things were changing rapidly in Europe. I’d like to give you just a quick run- down of some of the players and events of the time. Ferdinand and Isabella were eager for England’s friendship. France currently had land which Spain wanted back, and so Spain needed allies. France itself had difficulties. The Spider King had left a 13-year-old son and the regent was his older sister Anne. The Duke of Orleans, next in line to the throne, thought he should be regent and was making deals with whomever he could. The Duchy of Brittany was still steadfastly independent of France and was doing its best to remain so. But Duke Francis II was old and intermittently insane, and his minister Pierre Landois was so disliked that some of the nobles rose up against Francis. When they were beaten, they fled to France where they were welcomed by the government there. The Duke of Orleans was making deals with the Duke of Britanny and together, they were urging Richard to intervene.

Up in Burgundy, the only person Richard could totally count upon was his sister Margaret, but she was no longer in the mainstream of power. Her step-daughter, Mary had inherited the throne and married Maxmilian of Austria. When Mary died, her son Philip was too young to rule, but the nobles of Burgundy didn’t particularly want his father Maxmilian as the regent, so Max was also looking for allies.

It would appear that Richard had an abundance of choices. During the previous couple of years he had harried the Scots to such an extent that they sued for peace. Would he do the same with France, or would he give in to the wishes of Spain, Burgundy and Brittany and attack France? It depends on what sort of man you think Richard was. It is commonly believed that when Edward IV made the treaty with Louis, accepting a hefty bribe rather than fight, Richard had been shamed and disgusted. Now that he was king, would he value peace over war or would he instead see this as the perfect opportunity to press English claims to France?

Brittany had sheltered Henry Tudor for a long time, why should Richard help them? Yet in July 1485 he was reminded of his promise to send 4,000 soldiers and asked to send at least 1,000 over to Brittany as soon as possible. Burgundy had always been friendly to Yorkist kings, so they perhaps deserved a few soldiers and if he was to marry into the Spanish royal families, he would have to fight on their behalf. So, I think it is likely that within a year or two of Bosworth, Richard would have been sending an army over to either defend his allies or to directly attack France itself. The network of alliances against France was at its peak and this would be the perfect time to attack. In 1486, Duke Francis of Brittany arranged that his daughter and heir, Anne (aged 10) would marry Maxmilian and that his younger daughter, Isabel, would marry Maxmilian’s son Philip. The Duke of Orleans, the French heir, was also on their side and while they were attacking France in the North, Spain was making excursions into France in the South. This alliance lasted until 1488 when Duke Francis died, and the Duke of Orleans was captured and taken back to France.

Given Richard’s record, it is probable that rather than just send an army, Richard would led it, and of course this means he could have been killed at this time. Even Henry Tudor took an army to France, but like Edward IV, Tudor gladly took money from the French government rather than fight. I don’t think Richard would have settled for that.

However, fighting was not the only thing to occupy Richard’s mind. Slowly but surely the Renaissance was making its way to England. There were new ways of looking at the world, potentially heretical ways—reading the Bible in English for instance. But then Richard had such a Bible. Would he have had 93 people accused of heresy as Tudor did? Certainly Richard was pious, but as he also supported learning–perhaps he was more open to new ideas. Henry made no endowments to universities, Richard did.

Around 1490 two brothers were making the rounds of the European countries asking for financial support for their great venture—sailing west to China. While Christopher found a sympathetic ear in Isabella of Castile, his brother Bartholomew was not so lucky in England. It was not until Columbus came back with some success that Tudor agreed to give some money to John Cabot who wanted to sail on a more northerly route. Even then, Tudor gave 10 pounds to the “man who discovered the new Isle”, while he gave 30 pounds to a female dancer. Columbus was sailing west, Vasco da Gama was sailing around the Cape to India–yet Tudor could work up little enthusiasm for all this. It seems likely that Richard would have seized all this with gusto. He was a sailor; he was praised as a sea commander, and I think that he would have had an interest in these new discoveries.

In the 24 years of his reign, Henry Tudor had only seven Parliaments which sat for a total of 66 weeks. One book I read said that Henry Tudor did nothing new nor startling as a king. He was by no means the first Renaissance king, nor was Richard the last medieval ruler. The fostering of trade, restoring law and order, increasing crown lands by attainder, Edward IV had been a master at this and Richard followed in his footsteps.

However, as befits an usurper, Henry was more brutal than his predecessors. Henry called together Parliament when he needed money or to create attainders to hold his nobles in check. Richard, both in his Parliament and in his daily actions, showed an undeniable concern for law and justice. When there was a riot in York, he wrote to the Mayor and Aldermen, chastising them for allowing the riot. He also wrote to the rioters, telling them where and how they should have sought a hearing instead of resorting to violence. We all know about the various reforms put through his Parliament. It would have taken years for any lasting reforms, but I believe it would have been one of the central themes of his reign.

One other question occurred to me. What would Richard have done with Edward’s children? Some options were out of the question. He could not marry them to royalty—past history offered evidence of what could happen when illegitimate royal heirs married into the mix of blue blood. When he made peace with Scotland, a marriage was arranged between James, heir to the Scottish throne, and Richard’s niece Anne, daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk.. Richard ‘s own illegitimate daughter was married into nobility. Assuming that he could find any families who didn’t already have a Woodville or two, I think he would have married Edward’s daughters into good, loyal families while encouraging some of them to enter religious orders, as one, Bridget, did.

Would the Princes have shown up again? That’s a different paper.