Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What If Wednesday: The Last English King of England

Social media is amazing. Without it I never would've had a Twitter conversation with a representative of The Richard III Society of Canada, which inspired me to do some digging on Richard III, who some call the "last English king of England". Wikipedia tells us that he was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485, at the age of 32, in the Battle of Bosworth Field. Hah! I'm only 30 years old and I have a successful alternate history blog. Take that you York bastard!

Richard was a lot of "lasts" as well. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, the last decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, marked the end of the Middle Ages in England. Although perhaps having a play named after you written by none other than William Shakespeare can make up for his inglorious end...except for the fact that his body was found just a few years ago under a parking lot.

Richard legacy hasn't really stood the test of time. He is often portrayed as grotesque hunchback and many still believed he murdered his nephews to secure his place on the throne. Of course, not everyone agrees with this portrayal. Besides the aforementioned Society, Scottish mystery writer Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time features one of her famous characters digging through historical evidence to come to the conclusion that much of what we know of Richard is nothing but Tudor propaganda. On top of that, looking at his list of accomplishments, he did pass some laws that could be considered "modern", such as the creation of a court for those who could not afford representation, improved bail terms, the banning of restrictions on the printing and sale of books and the translations of laws from the traditional French to English.

So now that you have a taste of the historical Richard III, lets see what he is like in other corners of the multiverse. My first encounter with Richard was actually in Kim Newman's "Vampire Romance", which is set in his Anno Dracula universe. In that story Richard actually survived his death at Bosworth Field by becoming a vampire. Later, during the interwar period, Richard plots to take the throne again by first becoming the new King of the Vampires since Dracula has been exiled. Now that story falls completely under the alien space bat category, but you would be hard pressed to find a Richard story that isn't intentionally implausible, such as John Ford's The Dragon Waiting. While you have Richard winning the Battle of Bosworth Field and a religiously tolerant Byzantine Empire, you also have magic and, yes, even more vampires.

Neither of the stories above are that surprising really. For some reason fantasy dominates alternate histories set during or characters from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. For a Richard III story with a little science, even if its on the weird side, you can check out Andre Norton's time travel novel: Quest Crosstime (a.k.a. Crosstime Agent), which features a world where Richard III was victorious at the Battle of Bosworth Field, eventually leading to a North America divided between England and the Aztecs. So still not that plausible, but at least there is no magic.

The closest we come to a plausible Richard III alternate history without any magic or sci-fi, is oddly enough not from a book, but from television. I am speaking about The Black Addera BBC show from the 1980s that features Richard winning the Battle of Bosworth Field (of course) only to be unintentionally assassinated by his nephew Edmund and succeeded by Richard IV, one of the Princes in the Tower. There are issues with this history, since Richard IV would have been two at the time and the show portrays him as much older and he is eventually overthrown by Henry Tudor, who rewrites history so that everyone will remember Richard III as a monster, while completely omitting Richard IV from the history books altogether. This make The Black Adder more of a secret history than an alternate history, but considering this show was mostly a comedy, we can forgive it for its lack of plausibility.

If there is one thing these alternate histories have in common its that Richard III's big turning point was the Battle of Bosworth Field. Most of the time he will be victorious or at the very least survive and try again to take the throne (even if it takes a few centuries). Except for one exception, most of the stories above appear to adopt the modern view on Richard: that he wasn't as bad as history and fiction remember him, at least compared to a lot of monarchs and nobles of the time and many of his alleged crimes may just be a case of the victor writing the history. If that's the case, perhaps a longer reign for Richard III may not have been a bad thing for England, but I frankly do not know enough about the era to give that argument any justice.

What do you guys think about a longer reign for Richard III? Also, was there any books, stories, shows, etc. that I missed? Let us know in the comments.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update, a blogger on Amazing Stories and a Sidewise Awards for Alternate History judgeWhen not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the day when travel between parallel universes becomes a reality. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.


  1. A juicier idea would be that he WAS as bad as the legends say, and then, drunk with victory at Bosworth, he becomes Oliver Cromwell a century and a half earlier, and devastates Ireland. Then, figuring that no one has stopped him yet, he becomes an English Napoleon three centuries earlier, and goes through Europe. Who can stop him? I don't know enough about Europe in that period to make a guess.

    If he lives to see the rise of Martin Luther (he'd be in his early 70s, unlikely in those days but hardly implausible), what would his reaction be, as a Catholic absolute monarch? And how would he have handled the Spanish, Portuguese and French expansions into the New World?

    I realize that calling him "the last English King of England" is a reference to the Tudors being Welsh, the Stuarts Scottish, and every monarch since mostly German. But the Yorks -- and the Lancasters, too -- were Plantagenets. They weren't English, they were French, as had been every English monarch since William the Conqueror.

  2. "But the Yorks -- and the Lancasters, too -- were Plantagenets. They weren't English, they were French, as had been every English monarch since William the Conqueror."

    True. In fact you can argue the monarchy is an ethnicity all to itself. Even Harold Godwinson, who William the Conqueror defeated, was half-Danish or something. The term mostly comes from "Vampire Romance" where the character of Richard III calls himself the last English king. Maybe it was bad research on the author's part or maybe you can argue that by that time they were less French than English, but I realize my position in this argument is rather weak. You can also say I used the title to encourage people to click on the article ;-)

  3. Some books that stick out are Richard III in the 21st Century which is basically the Thor movie before the Thor movie existed.

    There was also an film of the play Richard III that's set in a Dieselpunk 1930s, but keeps all the original dialogue and plot

  4. I think Richard would have made a very effective king. For all the awfulness of some of what he did, seizing the throne rather than letting it be inherited by a child probably looked like the way to ensure stability in a troubled country. He had also been a successful leader in the often neglected north, and is still viewed fondly in York. I suspect he might have brought the ruthless efficiency for which the Tudors are remembered, rightly or wrongly, and run a very effective state.

    That said, without the bringing together of the Lancasters and Yorks that followed his reign, the dynastic struggles might have continued for generations. You could, really stretching things, create a vision of modern England in Lancastrian and Yorkist are the foundations of the modern political parties. No idea which side Cameron would be on though.

  5. He did NOT seize the throne!He had no choice but to accept that responsibility!
    As for England, I doubt very much he would have lived much longer - his progressive ideas were much too unpopular among the aristocracy.

  6. He did NOT seize the throne!He had no choice but to accept that responsibility!
    As for England, I doubt very much he would have lived much longer - his progressive ideas were much too unpopular among the aristocracy.


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