So many of the facts surrounding the story of King Richard III are lost in the shadow that has been cast over him that it is hard to discern the man. Shakespeare has passed a caricature of evil into the world's consciousness with such mastery that it has become an accepted version of this man's life. What we do know of him, though, defies this one dimensional demon. He had a childhood which was certainly privileged, yet which was rocked by turbulent political events in which he was caught. Years of his development were spent buffeted by this storm from terrifying abandonment before a hostile, marauding army to spells in the uncertainty of exile. It is entirely possible that he was gripped by insecurity and so fought to make himself secure in the world and prevent his son from enduring the same problems.
Richard's motto as King was 'Loyalty Binds Me' and this appears a fitting epithet for his time spent working to secure his brother's throne and build his own son's inheritance. He was tirelessly and unflinchingly loyal and it is the odds at which this man stands with the reputation he developed during 1483 that inspires and divides those who study him today. So much of what happened during that fateful summer is wide open to vastly disparate interpretation so that two extremes can be argued from the same incident. When Richard seized his nephew, was that the first play for the throne or did he genuinely fear a Woodville plot and act in the best interests of his nephew and the country? When Lord Hastings was executed, did Richard believe him guilty of treason, plotting against his Protectorate, and act decisively, or did he ruthlessly remove Edward V's key supporter at court? Did he kill his nephews? He could struggle to be King without killing them. His own brother, their father, had taught him that lesson.
To this day, King Richard III inspires devotion from those who seek to clear his name and revulsion in others who believe that there could never be justification for his seizure of the throne and probable murder of innocent boys. King Richard III's reign is one of history's most interesting 'what if's'. How far would he have taken his social reforms? What would England have been like without the Tudors? Certainly there would have been no Henrician Reformation. Perhaps the reason that there is such strong support for him now is that he should never have been a failed King. He was betrayed at Bosworth, yet that denotes a significant failure in his character. Although he inspired fierce loyalty in those closest to him he alienated much of the aristocracy and pushed them into Tudor's welcoming arms. He marked himself as an intractable foe of France so that the old enemy sought to support a more agreeable alternative.
Was Richard the architect of his own demise? He failed to play the game of thrones well and his commitment to loyalty and chivalric values left him open to opportunism and betrayal, even making them appealing to some.
Nevertheless, he was a man, and was certainly not the pure evil he is remembered as. He had hopes, fears, dreams and tragedies. All of those ended when he lost his life in a blaze of chivalric glory at the Battle of Bosworth Field.