The Truth About Richard III’s Illegitimate Children

As the most moral of kings, Richard III is known to have railed against the sexual excesses of his enemies.  Non-Ricardians (or Richard haters, to describe them more accurately and succinctly) have pointed to Richard’s being the father of two illegitimate children of his own in order to accuse him of hypocrisy. But were the children actually Richard’s own?

Richard III. His benevolence simply shines forth.
Richard III. His benevolence simply shines forth.

First, it should be noted that the identity of the children’s mothers cannot be confirmed, though traditionalist historians have put forth various candidates. No chronicle mentions Richard’s having a mistress or mistresses, and Richard’s household records do not furnish any clues. While some have pointed out that Richard’s private life was of little interest before he became king, and that his household records are not extant, the far more logical explanation is that no source mentions Richard’s mistress  or mistresses because he did not in fact have a mistress or mistresses.

The question then becomes, if Richard did not have a mistress, where did his illegitimate children come from? A short-lived fling is out of the question, because a man of Richard’s probity, and one who wore his motto ‘Loyalty binds me’ as proudly as he wore the white rose of York, was clearly incapable of entering into a casual sexual relationship, a one-nighter if you will.

As we have established that Richard did not have a mistress and did not have casual sex, it is clear that  Richard did not sire his illegitimate children in person. Where, then, did they come from, as Richard acknowledged them as his? While immaculate conception (and think what an honour it would have been to be the woman chosen to bring Richard’s offspring into the world!) is a tempting conclusion, it is more likely that the children were foundlings, whom Richard kindly agreed to raise as his own.

Support for this proposition can be found in the overwhelming evidence of Richard’s kindness to children. In 1483, Richard’s twelve-year-old nephew, Edward ‘V’, had become king after his mother, Edward IV’s concubine Elizabeth Wydeville, poisoned her husband. Recognising that young Edward was suffering from the trauma of his father’s death, and that he had no real desire to become king, Richard cleverly arranged to have Edward and his younger brother declared illegitimate, thereby saving Edward the embarrassment of admitting that he was not up for the job of ruling the country in his fragile emotional condition. He then sent the two boys off to Burgundy, where they could immerse themselves in the culture of that fine nation, a task which naturally would take them the rest of their lives. As for their sisters, Richard swore a public oath not to harm them or to imprison them in the Tower–an obvious sign of his love for them.

With this evidence, we can readily surmise what happened. Two young women (or perhaps just one woman–some people never learn) came to Richard  pregnant and in desperate straits. The kindly Richard agreed to raise their illegitimate children–and, to spare them the stigma of being bastards of a commoner, to raise them as his own offspring.  So moved was Richard by their plight, and so eager to be of help, he was willing to face the consequences of being believed to have sired these children himself.

No wonder Anne, his childhood sweetheart, adored him. And no wonder Henry ‘Tudor’ had to murder this saintly, misunderstood man.

Sources:

John Ashdown-Hill, The Dublin King

Annette Carson, The Maligned King

The Lion King

Every Victorian novel with a kindly guardian, just like Richard

The Kama Sutra (which Richard consulted only to please Anne)

Jeff Borden is still patiently waiting for that invitation for the reburial. Clearly, the Royal Mail is not as efficient as it was when Richard invented it.

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