Richard III is the fourth play in Shakespeare’s dramatised history of the war of the Roses; the mighty battle between the families of Plantagenet and Tudor for control of the English throne. It presents a sweeping and swashbuckling rendition of a period of bloody infighting and political intrigue in the history of 15th Century England. There is some novelty interest in the fact that the rise of the House of Tudor led to Elizabeth I being on the throne in the time of Shakespeare and, in fact, the Tudor household still occupies the British throne today in the person of Queen Elizabeth II.
The play begins with Richard’s brother, Edward IV holding the throne of England. In the very first moments of the play, Richard divulges to the audience that he plans to use all means to win the throne from his brothers and from their children. Richard secretly spreads lies about his second brother, the Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV has Clarence imprisoned. Richard then sends murderers to assassinate Clarence before he is able to prove his innocence. Sickened by this slaughter, the ailing King Edward IV dies, leaving the throne vacant. Henry IV’s children, the Princes of Wales and York, are immediately brought to London - the Prince of Wales to be crowned as England’s new King. But Richard, who is the official ‘Protector’ of the child prince, has he and his brother housed in London’s notorious ‘Tower’. With the princes kept out of the public eye, Richard works with his co-conspirators to remove, mainly through political intrigue and murder, anyone who opposes him from taking the throne. In a series of public gatherings, Richard convinces the people of London that the young princes are not legitimate children of Edward IV, and in a blindingly swift coup, Richard is placed on the throne of England. Immediately, to remove any chance of the young rightful heirs-to-the-throne being re-instated, Richard has the young princes murdered. He then has his current wife, Lady Anne Neville, murdered, which frees him to pursue the Edward IV’s surviving daughter, the young Elizabeth. Richard’s plan is that, if he can marry the young Elizabeth, then he will have closed off all avenues of legitimate lineage to the throne. But Henry Tudor, the Duke of Richmond, who has been kept safe in France throughout this bloody period, is convinced to gather up an army and invade England to free its people from the tyranny of Richard. On Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor kills Richard and takes the throne of England. It is he who marries the young Elizabeth and it is they who will eventually begin a royal dynasty starting with the infamous Henry VII, including Shakespeare’s Elizabeth I, and following right up to Elizabeth II today.