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After the Fall of Richard the III: Vengeance and the Alteration of History

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The discovery of Richard the III’s remains beneath a Leicester parking lot has spurred interest in Richard and his conqueror, Henry VII. The Battle of Bosworth which resulted in Richard’s demise was not Henry’s first attempt to overthrow Richard. An earlier uprising had been planned for October 18, 1483, but Richard had discovered the plot.[1] Although the rebellion did take place, it was frustrated by inclement weather and the loss of the element of surprise.[2] In its aftermath, Richard punished over one-hundred of those involved by attainting them, including Henry himself.[3]

Black’s Law Dictionary defines attainder as follows: “At common law, the act of extinguishing a person’s civil rights when that person is sentenced to death or declared an outlaw for committing a felony or treason…”[4]
J.R. Lander defines it a little more forcefully:
“Attainder was the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Attainder for treason was followed not only by the most savage and brutal corporal penalties and forfeiture of all possessions, but in addition the corruption of blood passing to all direct descendants, in other words, by the legal death of the family.”[5] Though a severe penalty, attaints were not always permanent. Mercy could be shown when the attainted person proved himself worthy of forgiveness, and his or her attaint could then be reversed.[6]

In total, Richard had attained one-hundred-four of those who had conspired against him.[7] This reaction was apparently considered extreme, and made Richard seem as though he was in a state of panic.[8] To make matters worse, Richard’s son Edward passed away in 1484, and his wife, Anne, was unable to provide him with any more children before she died in March 1485.[9] Not only did this leave Richard without a legitimate heir, it was also taken as a sign by Richard’s subjects that providence had turned against him.[10]

Titulus Regius - A Declaration of the King's Title from the Statutes at Large [Photo by Robert Brammer.]
Titulus Regius – A Declaration of the King’s Title from the Statutes at Large
[Photo by Robert Brammer.]
Indeed, Richard’s reign came to a violent end when he perished at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485.[11] After death, Richard’s body suffered mistreatment as further wounds were inflicted upon it for the purpose of humiliation, and his corpse was displayed both as a trophy and as proof that he had indeed perished in the battle.[12] The body was then buried beneath the Grey Friars’ Church, where it would remain long after the church had been dismantled, until its discovery over five-hundred years later.[13]

And what became of Richard’s followers? Did Henry prove as vindictive as Richard? Interestingly enough, Henry simply denied that Richard was ever a King at all.  Henry dated his reign back to the day prior to the Battle of Bosworth field on August 21, 1485, rendering those who fought on Richard’s behalf traitors by implication.[14] Henry also denied Richard’s reign by referring to Richard in legislation not as a King, but as the Duke of Gloucester.[15] Henry completed the task of denying Richard’s status by offering a pardon to many in Richard’s army by referring to them as “Northern Rebels.”[16] Like Richard, Henry did pass bills of attainder to single out particular supporters of Richard, but the number was far less, with Henry attainting twenty-eight men in total, and the majority of the attainders were reversed within ten years time.[17]

[1]Michael Van Cleave Alexander, The First of the Tudors 19 (1980).


[3]Id. 21

[4]Black’s Law Dictionary 146 (9th ed. 2009).

[5]J.R. Lander, Attainder and Forfeiture, 1453 to 1509, 4 The Historical Journal 119-120 (1961).

[6]Michael Van Cleave Alexander, The First of the Tudors 40 (1980).

[7]Id. 21


[9]Id. 22


[11]Id. 27

[12]Id. 28


[14]Sean Cunningham, Henry VII 44 (2007).


[16]Id. 45

[17]Michael Van Cleave Alexander, The First of the Tudors 40 (1980).

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