How Richard III Invented the Christmas Present

While much is made by Tudorites of what they in their foul-mindedness regard as Richard III’s excessive attention to his niece during the Christmas of 1484, few recognise the true significance of this event.


A Victorian re-creation of the joyous festivities  of Richard's Christmas court
A Victorian re-creation of the joyous festivities of Richard’s Christmas court

Newly released from sanctuary, where she had been held as a bargaining tool by her selfish mother, her hopes of a great marriage blasted by her father’s folly in entering into a precontract, young Elizabeth of York sorely needed some cheer at Christmas. Richard, despite his own heartache as he witnessed his beloved Queen Anne wasting away from consumption, could not stand by and watch his niece’s gloom. As Paul Murray Kendall has pointed out, ‘often Richard scattered small gifts like a benevolent agent of Providence’, and the Christmas of 1484 was no exception. He ordered that a gown be made of the finest silk to match that worn by Queen Anne, carefully wrapped the completed garment in a package, and presented it to young Elizabeth on Christmas morning. How Elizabeth’s eyes shone! In her gladness of heart, she did not even realise that Richard had started a custom that survives today–the giving of Christmas presents.

Sadly, Elizabeth was to never know another Christmas like that of 1484. She spent the Christmas of 1485 in dread and gloom, knowing that her beloved uncle lay dead in a car park and that she would soon be bartered in marriage to Henry Tudor to bolster his weak claim to the throne. Her worst fears proved true, for her miserly, cruel husband not only eradicated the Plantagenets, but the fledgling tradition of giving Christmas gifts–destroying all of the unused Christmas gift tags, gift wrap, and gift bags left behind at Richard’s court at the same time he destroyed Titulus Regius.

Obliged to play cards during the holidays to supplement her meager allowance , made to wear furs taken from the skins of ermines and other lower animals, and forced to assume the role of a royal consort instead of a bastard niece, Elizabeth pined away until she finally  left this world in 1503, joining in death the man who had presented her with her first and only Christmas gift.


Paul Murray Kendall, Richard the Third

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Jeff Borden wishes you a Merry Christmas, if it’s possible to have one in a world devoid of Plantagenets.


2 thoughts on “How Richard III Invented the Christmas Present

  1. So Richard was a giver of gifts. This does not sound like the wicked person we all love to hate. He probably asked for a gift too, but not a Christmas. He wanted, “A horse, and horse, my kingdom for a horse!” Well William S. said he did and that’s good enough for me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s