Cultural depictions of Richard III of England

Late 16C portrait of Richard III (National Portrait Gallery, London), copied from an early 16C one in the Royal Collections. This version features in Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time.

Richard III of England has been depicted in popular culture many times.



  • The foremost work of literature featuring Richard III is William Shakespeare's Richard III, which is believed to have been written in 1591, a century after the King's death. Richard is also a character in Henry VI, Part 2 and Henry VI, Part 3.
  • Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendor gives a comprehensive account of the Wars of the Roses. However, the author has made additions and minor adjustments to enrich the story.
  • Anne Easter Smith's A Rose for the Crown is a romantic novel centred upon Katherine Haute, who has been suggested as the mother of at least one of Richard's illegitimate children.
  • Rosemary Hawley Jarman's novel We Speak No Treason (1971) is another account from the Ricardian viewpoint, told through three courtiers.
  • Reay Tannahill's The Seventh Son is a sympathetic but unromanticized treatment of Richard III.
  • Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time (1951) puts Clements Markham's theories regarding the Princes in the Tower, from his Richard III: his life and character (1906), into the form of a modern detective novel. While in hospital, an injured police detective devotes his spare time to an investigation of the murder of the Princes, supposedly committed or commissioned by Richard III. He concludes that Richard was innocent and that the most likely culprit was Henry VII. Writing as Gordon Daviot, she also wrote a play, Dickon (produced 1955), based more closely on the historical Richard, and again sympathetic in its treatment.
  • The character of Stannis Baratheon in the ongoing fantasy series of novels by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, appears to be loosely inspired by Richard III. In this version Richard/Stannis is indeed the legitimate heir to his dynastic claim (his nephews are illegitimate, and he is the second of three brothers rather than the third as with the historical Richard). This depiction mixes features suggesting both the heroic Richard of the Ricardians (Stannis is a brave and skilful military commander with a strong, albeit self-righteous sense of justice, honour and duty, and rallies support in the north by defending it from invasion) and the darker image of the Tudor portrait (Stannis kills his younger brother for putting himself forward as a rival pretender, is highly ambitious, and associates with Melisandre a sinister practitioner of fire and blood magic). Fans of the series continue to debate whether Stannis will ultimately succumb to his darker side or end as a predominantly heroic figure.
  • Posie Graeme-Evans's trilogy about the later Plantagenet kings features a young Richard III.
  • In Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses the young Richard of Gloucester is a significant secondary character, as "Richard Crookback".
  • In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, the Shakespeare play is treated in the same way as The Rocky Horror Show, with regular audiences dressing up as characters from the play, stepping in to take part in it, and regular, evolutionary audience participation.
  • In Mark Twain's A (Burlesque) Autobiography he writes: "I was born without teeth — and there Richard III had the advantage of me; but I was born without a humpback, likewise, and there I had the advantage of him."
  • In the Jonny Quest comic, #10, March 1987: "Winters of Discontent", Jonny and Hadji are accidentally sucked back in time and meet Richard III, only to find the princes are not locked in the tower (they adore their uncle), that Richard, not deformed, is loved by the people, and that there is a plot by Henry to usurp Richard and launch a smear campaign to legitimize his own claim to the throne. The theme is that history is written by the winners and that the truth will out.
  • Dickon by Jack Pulman (1979) is a play premiered by the John Lewis Partnership Dramatic Society, directed by Michael Deacon, and starring Alan Patient as Richard III.
  • Richard III features as a character in The Founding, Volume 1 of The Morland Dynasty, a series of historical novels by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. This volume is set against the background of the Wars of the Roses.
  • Richard III and some of the events and personages associated with him, historically and in Shakespeare's play, feature in John M. Ford's fantasy/alternate history novel The Dragon Waiting.
  • Rhoda Edwards wrote two historical novels examining Richard's youth up to his betrothal to Anne Neville, Fortune's Wheel, and his reign as king up to his death, Some Touch of Pity (published in the USA as The Broken Sword).
  • In Philippa Gregory's novel The White Queen (2009), it is never explicitly stated who is responsible for the young princes' murder/disappearance. Though it never fully acquits Richard, the novel seems to suggest that Henry Tudor was the actual culprit, due to a curse that would leave the murderer of the boys with only girls to inherit, causing the death of both his son and his grandson while still young, thus incriminating him. In her novel "The Red Queen", this is confirmed.
  • Counterfactual treatments of what would have happened had Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth and killed Richmond instead are rare within the alternate history subgenre of science fiction. One rare exception is Andre Norton's The Crossroads of Time (1956/1962), in which Ferdinand and Isabella also fail to subdue Grenada. Thus, John Cabot discovers America (or Cabotland, as it is called here, amidst other historical alterations. While Richard III plays a minor role, Norton's sympathies seem Ricardian in this context.
  • John M. Ford wrote a counterfactual fantasy treatment of Richard III's rise to power, The Dragon Waiting (1986), albeit one set in an alternate universe where Julian the Apostate reigned as Roman Emperor for longer than in our history and was successful in reinstating Roman polytheism as a consequence. Magic also works in this alternate universe. At its end, Richard III wins the Battle of Bosworth and kills Richmond.


Richard has been portrayed by the following actors on film, mostly in versions of the Shakespeare play:

In addition, Looking for Richard is a 1996 feature documentary about putting on the play, directed by and starring Al Pacino.


Richard has been portrayed on television by:

  • William Windom in Shakespeare's Richard III (1950), an episode of the American series Masterpiece Playhouse
  • Paul Daneman in the BBC series An Age of Kings (1960), which contained all the history plays from Richard II to Richard III, and in the drama Traitor's Gate (1962)
  • Wolfgang Kieling in the West German TV version of Shakespeare's play König Richard III (1964)
  • Ian Holm in War of the Roses (1965), which was a filmed version of the Royal Shakespeare Company performing all three parts of Henry VI and Richard III
  • Adalberto Maria Merli in the Italian serial La Freccia nera (1968), an adaptation of The Black Arrow
  • Péter Haumann in III. Richárd (1973), a Hungarian version of the Shakespeare play
  • Colin Starkey in the "Who Killed the Princes in the Tower?" episode of the BBC drama documentary series Second Verdict (1976)
  • Peter Cook in the first episode of the BBC comedy series The Black Adder (1983)
  • Ron Cook in the BBC Shakespeare versions of Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3 and The Tragedy of Richard the Third (1983)
  • Andrew Jarvis in the BBC series The Wars of the Roses (1989), which included all of Shakespeare's history plays performed by the English Shakespeare Company
  • Antony Sher (voice) in the BBC series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (1994)
  • Paul Mohan in an episode of the British educational TV series Historyonics entitled "Richard III" (2004)

A comic "secret history" of Richard III is presented in the British historical sitcom Blackadder. In the series' pilot episode, Richard III (played by Peter Cook), is a parody of Laurence Olivier's depiciton, who is a kind monarch, defeats Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field, but is accidentally killed by bumbling noble Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson), son of the adult Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (Brian Blessed) when Edmund, not recognising him, thinks he is stealing his horse. The Duke ascends the throne and is crowned "King Richard IV", and Edmund, now prince, rechristens himself as the Black Adder. When the entire royal family dies in the series' final episode, Henry Tudor usurps the throne and rewrites history as it is known today.

Richard III is referenced in series 2 of the BBC animated series Monkey Dust. A history documentary talks of fiscal reforms perpetrated by him whilst he was Duke of Gloucester and tells how this made England rich and Scotland poor, and then pans out to men in a pub in England football strips chanting, "there's only one Duke of Gloucester".


  • Richard III has the dubious distinction of being immortalised in Cockney rhyming slang, Richard the Third meaning turd. In the Thames Television series Minder, a different use of rhyming slang is made when Arthur describes a girlfriend of his minder Terry's as being a "comely Richard" (i.e. Richard the Third = bird, a British slang term for "girl"). The "bird" meaning was also used by Ronnie Barker in a comedy sketch in which he played a clergyman giving a sermon in rhyming slang. This seems more logical, given that in baby talk, a bird is commonly a "dicky-bird", and "Dick" is a common short form of Richard.
  • Britpop band Supergrass have a song titled Richard III on their album In It for the Money.
  • Richard Lawrence, who tried but failed to assassinate U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1835, was under the delusion that he was actually King Richard III.
  • Stephen Beckett plays Richard III in the Doctor Who audio drama The Kingmaker.
  • Slysheen, a character from Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses, is portrayed as Richard III.
  • Peter Sellers slyly mocks both the Beatles and Laurence Olivier's portrayal of Richard III by reciting the lyrics to A Hard Day's Night in costume and delivery that parody Olivier in a recording that he reprised on a television show (available from YouTube).

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