Front Page Titles (by Subject) 34.: On Richard III - Judgments on History and Historians
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34.: On Richard III - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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On Richard III
(I) When King Edward IV of the house of York died in April of 1483, his widow Elizabeth Rivers would definitely have had to turn over the regency for the minor Edward V to Richard of Gloucester, no matter what manner of man he may have been. But by the way she acted, one-sidedly giving away power and offices to her family, she had to bring ruin upon her house.
In Volume 5 of his History of England, Pauli thinks that with a calendar in his hand he can specify the day on which Gloucester was still loyal to his nephew before he started to strive for the crown himself. In vain!
Richard was no monster, but a terrorist. He did not commit a pointless crime; later he was fair to his victims. He acted in a spirit of “expediency.”
Richard would perhaps have an entirely different accounting sheet for us than Pauli might lead us to suspect, and in June of 1483, when he had himself proclaimed king of England, he would have spoken thus:
“I know the forest fire which in this country simply consumes the tallest tree trunks. It will rage till it dies out. It is a matter of who will be the last to remain on the scene. When the Lancasters were in power, they persecuted one another to the death, and when we Yorks rose up, we did likewise. I for my part have always found the simplification of problems in wiping out those to whom a possible rival faction could attach itself, for it is high time that a strong kingship were preserved.
“That is why with my own hands I killed the Prince of Wales, Henry VI, and also, as they say, my piteous brother Clarence. But I have always seen eye to eye with my brother Edward because he knew how to reign. Now, when he has hardly breathed his last, along comes my double-dealing and yet so simple-minded sister-in-law and places her relatives in all offices, probably because I am supposed to be untrustworthy. Surely I could have been trusted; I would have been the most loyal guardian of Edward V, but they would have had to obey me completely. Of course, I had to snatch those Riverses and Greys away, and it is too bad one can no longer merely keep someone in prison in England. Then those so-called friends of my brother Edward IV block my path. Who are those gentlemen, anyway? As though I didn’t know all about where they came from and how they got there. Nothing but intriguers! But I am a Plantagenet. Of course, one of them, Hastings, had to bleed, others had to sit in prison, and still others to come over to my side. Unfortunately all these affairs have so spoiled the situation that my brother’s sons, if they grew up, would never forgive me; and even now, through their very existence, because they themselves could not as yet reign anyway, they are a constant cause for the splintering of our faction of York. Thus it is a necessity for me to seize the crown, and this logically involves the disappearance of my nephews. If this should make the hearts of many good Englishmen bleed, it is just because they do not understand the least thing about the actual realities of today’s concrete English royalty. It may be that later I, too, shall perish; but my successor, whoever he may be, will justify me by giving the still extant offspring of our house, to which a faction might attach itself, a second going-over. The worst of it is that by killing my nephews I am doing that lurking Henry Richmond a huge favor, too. You good people don’t know this Tudor yet, otherwise you would have more sympathy with me. You are shuddering. But how would things be without me? The so-called friends of my brother and my sister-in-law’s relatives would now be giving battle to one another in the name of Edward V, and in the end there wouldn’t be anyone left who was authorized and qualified to hold aloft the banner of England. At least I kill only those who are in my way. Govern yourselves accordingly.”
(II) Richard is a Robespierre of royalty—at any rate, of his York branch. Just as Robespierre kills all republicans who do not subscribe to his conception of the republic, Richard destroys all those of the house of York and its followers to whom a split-off faction could attach itself, until he stands alone and goes down.
(III) With this crown, to be sure, the whole undiminished royal power passed from Richard to Henry VII. There was no legacy of disunion and conditionality attached to it, as was the case elsewhere after civil strife. The obscure will in Richard III had been not to let the crown fall into any powerless hands; this was now accomplished and he could die.