Today in History – The Birth of King Richard III

The Paston Portrait of King Richard III, painted 1520. It is thought to be a good likeness of him.

The Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay
The Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay
On the 2nd of October 1452, a motte and bailey castle at Fotheringhay, Northamptonshire saw the birth of a son to Duchess Cecily Neville, and Richard, Duke of York.

The couple were a noble family, close to the Royal family. In fact, Richard, Duke of York had been the Protector of the Realm whilst the Lancastrian King, Henry VI was incapacitated by mental illness.

The Coat of Arms of Richard's mother, Duchess Cecily Neville. Image from Wikipedia
The Coat of Arms of Richard’s mother, Duchess Cecily Neville. Image from Wikipedia
The Yorkist Duke Richard had better claim to the throne than Henry, as he could trace his lineage to the 2nd and 4th sons of Edward III through both his parents, where in which Henry descended from the 3rd son through his father.

The birth of a son was an auspicious occasion in the life of a 15th Century family, and the Duke and his Duchess had been blessed many times over.

This young boy, christened Richard after his father was the 4th son and the 12th child born to the couple.

He was the youngest child to survive into adulthood, with 6 of his siblings victim to the high mortality rate for infants in the 15th century.

However, as the 4th living son, the Duke and Duchess were privileged to have another child and his birth was not seen as an unusual occasion or of particular significance

The York Falcon and Fetterlock.
The York Falcon and Fetterlock.
As for the small boy himself? It is thought that he was born to Cecily after a difficult labour, but not much else stands out as extraordinary about him.

A rhyme written around the time of his birth about his family stated ‘Richard liveth yet’, however this could reference the high mortality rate of infants rather than Richard’s health. It is said that he resembled his father the most out of any of his brothers, small with dark hair.

Not much is known about his childhood, but it is said that he spent most of his first 7 years at Fotheringhay with his younger siblings George and Anne, and his mother.

It must have been a quiet childhood, Fotheringhay is surrounded by meadows and the Castle itself was by the meandering River Nene. It was an isolated place.

The Commemorative Yorkist Window, Fotheringhay
The Commemorative Yorkist Window, Fotheringhay
He would have been sheltered from the growing political Wars of the Roses that his father was heavily involved in.

That shelter and innocence must have been swiftly ended when Richard, along with his younger siblings and mother were sent to Ludlow Castle, and left at the mercy of a marauding Lancastrian army after his father and elder brothers were forced to flee after a Yorkist defeat.

At the time of his birth, it would have been unthought of that Richard would become King.

For one thing, he wasn’t in the direct line of succession. Even if his father had won the Battle of Wakefield, defeated the Lancastrians and become King, Richard still have been 4th in line to the throne after his 3 brothers.

Even when his brother King Edward IV became King in 1461, he was only destined to fulfill his role as his loyal brother and Lord of the North, the Duke of Gloucester.

Ludlow Castle, where Richard was sent with his family at the age of 7
Ludlow Castle, where Richard was sent with his family at the age of 7
The twist of fate, and the wheel of fortune. One of the reasons I love history, and the many what if’s the twists of fate give us.

Happy 563rd Birthday King Richard. Personally, I am glad he is now in a place of sanctity and respect in Leicester Cathedral for the first anniversary of his birth since his re-internment.

Banner of King Richard III
Banner of King Richard III
References:
Wikipedia – Cecily Neville
Richard the Third by Paul Murray Kendall
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