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POD Cast: 22 August 1485, Part 2

By Tim Venning

The Battle of Bosworth, as imagined by Edmund Leighton.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The first article in the 2-part look at PODs from the Battle of Bosworth covered the background. This article looks at the possible outcomes of Richard winning Bosworth and remaining in power after 1485.

Glorious Summer of this Sun of York?

When Richard’s body was located in 2012, it was found that he had physical problems with his spine. In addition, he made frequent written references to moral issues. These two in combination suggest that it is possible he identified his poor health with disapproving Divine intervention, and he felt a need to prove that he was combatting sin in the hope of physical relief as a reward. Having Juana of Portugal, called the Holy Princess, as a wife would have increased his impulses to do good works and pose as a champion of the Church. This might have stabilised his apparent mood swings and lapses into violence.

Princess Juana of Portugal.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

He and Juana would have made a sharp contrast to the relaxed atmosphere of his brother’s court, and would no doubt have been lavishing patronage on the Church – as he had already done in Yorkshire.

There is, however, a question over Juana’s health. In OTL, she died in her late thirties, the death possibly hastened by physical exhaustion from her religious austerities, such as fasting. Would her having to bear children for Richard distract her from this threat, or would it undermine her already poor health?

If she did die younger than expected, would this make Richard bitter, inward-looking, and revive his psychotic tendencies?

If she died in her forties, around 1495-1500, after giving Richard three or four children to secure his dynasty, he could still end up as suspicious and paranoid of his nobles as Henry Tudor did in OTL in the same period after his wife died.

Richard’s back problems could also have worsened, possibly after campaigning in France. If that were to happen, he would have to give up campaigning personally and rely on the efforts of his De La Pole nephews, or Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, for military success.

Any foreign prince who married Elizabeth of York after 1485 could now potentially be a target for plotters seeking to use him to depose Richard.

However, Richard couldn’t remove all of Edward IV’s six daughters as political threats by putting them in nunneries. Logically, the best solution would be to marry Elizabeth to Richard’s own chosen heir (John, Earl of Lincoln). Richard, just as Henry did, would have been marrying off Edward IV’s daughters to his own loyal supporters as they became old enough – probably mostly to Northern magnates.

The girls would have made better matches than they did under Henry VII, though foreign marital arrangements would have been more difficult than under Edward IV because they had been declared illegitimate.

Until such time as Richard and his queen (possibly Juana) produced heirs, Richard’s nephew John had been chosen as successor. The question of legitimacy of John’s succession could have caused a revolt by a rival who could also claim royal descent.

Any forced reconciliation between Richard and Elizabeth Woodville after 1485 and an attempt to win back Edward IV’s disgruntled ex-Household men might have led to attempts to press for the legitimisation of Edward IV’s daughters.

Richard was only 32 in August 1485, and had plenty of time to marry again and father heirs who could be adult before he died. If he did not marry Juana, then the most likely foreign alternative was the heiress of Brittany, Francis II’s daughter Anne (born in 1476) – the Breton ducal house being descended from Edward I. This would entail a long wait for children, but England had been a long-term ally of Breton independence from France. Richard marrying Anne would put an end to the French attempts to secure Anne for King Charles VIII and unite Brittany with France, and could have led to war with France over control of the Duchy.

In OTL, the Breton succession crisis erupted in 1488 when Duke Francis died. This was long enough after Bosworth for Richard to be looking around for a foreign war to bolster his regime, and also soon enough for him to have still been unmarried.

In 1488/89, France was a credible target for a Continental expedition. Richard was capable of leading an expedition to France himself, either to Brittany to secure the borders from French invasion or to Picardy to link up with Maximilian, Regent of the Netherlands/Burgundy.

An expedition to Picardy was likely to end up bogged down in sieges, with the Habsburg prince likely losing his enthusiasm for the war. However, Richard was more likely than the less martial Henry VII in 1492 to have fought a long war and have taken one or two towns (such as Boulogne or Tournai).

One possible outcome of a war in Artois would be to extend the English ‘Pale’ beyond Calais, as Henry VIII attempted in OTL in both 1513-14 and 1544. The war would need a lengthy English commitment, as in the early 1350s, to secure Brittany against a determined French attack backed by some local nobles and to force the French King to accept a ‘Union of Crowns’ between Ricardian England and Brittany.

Success could have given Richard the prestige of success against the national enemy without the expense of a long war. Because the Bretons are noted for their independent spirit, and Richard would have to agree that England and the Breton estates would be governed separately. One assumes that if Richard and Anne were to have two or more children, one would succeed to England and one to Brittany. If Richard was already married to Juana, he could hand Anne over to one of the De La Pole brothers to be Duke of Brittany and his new ally there.

A major Ricardian war in either Brittany or Artois or both would distract the French Charles VIII from his real-life intervention in Italy in 1494. It was this intervention that drew France into a long-term competition with Spain over influence there, especially over the heirship of the Kingdom of Naples and the rule of Milan.

Should this happen, then the French claim to Naples would have to be postponed, as would asserting the French claim to Milan. In this situation, the controversial and reputedly murderous usurper Duke Lodovico Sforza of Milan would have survived as ruler for longer – and so been able to offer more patronage to his ‘celebrity’ artist and engineer protégé, Leonardo da Vinci. Similarly, the weak new ruler of Florence, Piero di Medici, who had succeeded his famous father Lorenzo “the Magnificent” in 1492, would have kept his throne and not been replaced by a restored republic.

A possible accidental beneficiary of a potential Ricardian adventure in Brittany - Leonardo da Vinci.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In OTL, the French invasion in 1494 of north and central Italy upended the established order of inter-city feuding without external involvement. However, the Habsurg ruler Maximilian (Emperor from 1493) would still have claimed Milan and would probably have intervened there before too long. Without the intervention of France, it is probable that Piero di Medici would be removed.

If Charles dies from banging his head on a door lintel in 1498, as he did in OTL, then his cousin Duke Louis of Orleans – who had a direct claim on Milan – would have regarded Italy as a priority over Brittany, especially in an ageing and ailing King Richard was seen as less of a threat. This could have resulted in an independent Brittany under a Yorkist or De La Pole duke as a vassal of England.

It is also possible that the Ricardian alliance with Portugal would extend to closer links with their neighbour and ally Castille. Castille, with its large fleet, had been a valuable ally for France in attacking English Gascony in the 14th Century during the Hundred Years War. By now, Castille and Aragon were regional rivals with France, a tension heightened by Charles VIII’s ambitions towards Naples, an ally of Aragon. Richard allying with Castille and Aragon would be logical, and in OTL Henry VII allied to them by having Catherine of Aragon marrying his heir in 1501.

One can speculate that Richard could do similar, and potentially become involved with his new ally’s trading interests in a “sea route to China”, involving the Columbus expedition to the New World in 1492. The cost-conscious Henry VII chose not to get involved in the Columbus expedition, but Richard III might chose otherwise.

Would Richard III have sponsored the Columbus Expedition?

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

There are also intriguing possibilities connected to one of the forgotten figures of the era – the Anglo-Portuguese sea captain and merchant adventurer Sir Edward Brampton, who is worthy of a whole historical thriller in his own right.

If Richard III had continued as King, the profit-seeking and adaptable Brampton could have used his Portuguese trading voyages to get involved in the voages to Brazil, and potentially persuaded Richard to invest in these.

Elsewhere, the deposition of James III of Scotland by a revolt on behalf of his son in 1488 would probably have caught England under Richard as much by surprise as it did under Henry VII. Richard had had long personal experience of fighting in southern Scotland, and of Scottish nobles and princes going back on their promises. If Richard had been concentrating his forces on France and Brittany in 1488-90, he would have been unable to take advantage of the situation, but he could subsequently have threatened to invade and induced the new King to marry and English princess. Richard had a valuable resource for international diplomacy in his plentiful supply of nieces.

The usurpations of Henry IV and Edward IV had been controversial, but armed force and the acquiescence of most of the magnates had kept them on their thrones. Provided that his health survived, Richard would have had the advantage of having seen off his main challengers in 1483 and 1485 and his success would have disconcerted potential opponents.

However, the husband or sons of Elizabeth of York would have posed a threat to Richard and his children, and some ambitious noble or a foreign power could have sponsored a pretender claiming to be Edward V or his brother in the 1490s. The likeliest was France, as it was in OTL sponsoring Perkin Warbeck.

If Richard died leaving young children, there is a strong chance there would be another civil war with Warwick, Lincoln, or his brothers.

But with luck, Richard III could have lived into his sixties and died as late as 1515 or 1520, after a long and successful reign. The question of the murder of his nephews would have continued to hang over his dynasty, but there is less likelihood under Richard III’s rule (or that of his son) of any writers in England daring to mention it openly.

The Ricardian regime might well have outlived those few senior courtiers who knew the truth, with nobody left alive with knowledge of the events by time the matter was considered by some historian once Richard was dead. King Richard III would have had an unsavoury reputation, but the scandal would have been conveniently ignored.

Even his successor might well have found the episode too embarrassing to refer to unless that ruler had his own reasons to blacken Richard’s name. The chances of any bodies being recovered would have been minimal, and the mystery would have been insoluble.

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Tim Venning has written a series of books for SLP on Ancient Rome, starting with Caesars of the Bosphorus.

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