The Motivation of Richard, Duke of York

Of everything that came out of the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in the Leicester parking lot, one clear benefit was renewed debate over the reputation of the king outside of the usual cast of historians. Hearing the man’s complicated and lengthy career summed up for the purposes of pithy synopses, I was struck again by the symmetry in the stories of Richard III and his father. Both grew up with fathers deemed traitors by the English government; both had a long track record for ability; both claimed the throne when other men sat on it. You could make the argument that both men were known for loyalty up until the 11th hour, but that is a trickier argument when discussing Richard, Duke of York.

On October 10, 1460 York entered Parliament, held at Westminster, and walked directly to the empty throne where he placed his hand on it, laying claim. After more than a decade of insisting his protests against the rule of his cousin, Henry VI, were based out of a desire for reform and not ambition, this severely undermine the purity of the Yorkist cause. It is also a critical intersection of two ways of looking at the Wars of the Roses: were the wars fought over a dynastic struggle or a response to mismanagement? Likely, it began as the latter and turned into the former. But still, at what point did York begin fighting to name himself king instead of closest councilor?

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Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York

The Beginning

Richard was born on September 21, 1411 to Richard, Earl of Cambridge and his wife, Anne Mortimer. His father was the younger brother to the childless Edward, Duke of York and both men were the grandsons of King Edward III through his fourth surviving son, Edward, Duke of York. Richard’s mother, Anne, was the granddaughter of Philippa Plantagenet, only daughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, second surviving son of Edward III.

Put more simply: Richard had an excellent claim to the throne, being descended from Edward III through both his parents.

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