“A WEAK AND PIPING TIME OF PEACE”
After years of brutal civil wars between the York and Lancaster families (known as the War of the Roses), the Yorkists now sit on the throne. For the first time in decades, England is enjoying life free from war under King Edward IV. The King’s brother, Richard the Third of Gloucester, who has been deformed since birth, is uncomfortable with this new found peace because he is unable to participate in courtship, and declares that because he cannot “play the lover” he will “prove a villain.” In that spirit, Richard sets out to clear a path for himself to inherit the crown.
Knowing that his brother Clarence (also called George) comes before him in line, Richard convinces the King to have him arrested for treason. Richard spreads the gossip that it is Edward’s wife Queen Elizabeth who has turned the King against Clarence. In an audacious move, Richard woos Lady Anne Neville, whose husband he has recently killed, over the corpse of the late King Henry VI, for whom she is mourning.
“CAN CURSES PIERCE THE CLOUDS AND ENTER HEAVEN?”
King Henry’s widow Margaret returns from banishment to curse the York family, with special attention paid to Richard, for whom she wishes tormenting dreams and a savage death. She also warns Buckingham not to trust Richard.
King Edward IV, battling illness, attempts to maintain the tenuous peace he has established by mending the relationship between his longtime supporters, Hastings and Buckingham, and his wife’s brothers Rivers and Grey. They begrudgingly take an oath of allegiance, and Richard enters with the news that Clarence has been executed. Richard and Buckingham begin to form an alliance.
“O LET ME DIE TO LOOK UPON DEATH NO MORE!”
Devastated by the news of his brother’s death (for which he blames himself), King Edward IV dies. His son, young Edward V, is sent for to be crowned King of England. This breaks the fragile truce between families, and Richard has Rivers and Grey arrested as they are on their way to escort young Edward to London.
Richard, now named Lord Protector of the King, is able to persuade young Edward V, along with his brother Richard Duke of York, to take up residence in the Tower of London. Richard and Buckingham send their ally Catesby to determine whether the gentlemen Hastings and Stanley can be persuaded to join Richard’s political alliance.
Buckingham, Stanley, Hastings, and others meet to discuss the coronation of the young King. By pretending that Hastings’ mistress, Lady Jane Shore, has bewitched him, Richard manipulates the men to have Hastings beheaded. Richard sends Buckingham out to convince the citizens that Edward V was illegitimate, and that he should be crowned Richard III.
“MY KINGDOM STANDS ON BRITTLE GLASS”
The Duchess of York, Lady Anne, and Elizabeth are denied access to the Princes in the Tower, and receive the news that Richard is to be crowned King Richard III. To ensure his rightful reign, Richard secretly commands that the young Princes be executed. Buckingham falls out of favor with Richard and flees. Upon learning of the death of her children, Elizabeth asks Margaret to teach her how to curse. Richard has his wife Anne executed and attempts to persuade Elizabeth to allow him to marry her young daughter (his own niece).
“CONSCIENCE IS BUT A WORD THAT COWARDS USE!”
As the people become more and more fearful of Richard, the Earl of Richmond (with a claim to the throne from the Lancastrian side) begins to gather forces to overthrow him. Richard gathers his own troops and sets out for Bosworth field to defend his crown.
Night falls on Bosworth field and Richard sleeps. As Margaret predicted, he is visited by the ghosts of all those he has killed to win the crown. They curse Richard and bless Richmond for the oncoming battle. The fighting begins and Richard’s horse is slain, leaving him to fight on foot. He and Richmond fight man to man. Richmond is victorious and becomes King Henry VII of England. He vows to marry Young Elizabeth, thereby uniting the White and Red Rose, ending civil war forever.