Notes on Richard III

When this play begins, England's royal family has been locked in a power struggle for a number of decades that periodically erupts into violence. These battles are all part of the Wars of the Roses, named after the family symbols of the two contending groups: the Lancaster family, symbolized by a red rose, and the York family, symbolized by a white one.

The problems began with the death of the long-reigning King Edward III, of the house of Plantagenet. Edward III had seven sons, of whom the fourth and fifth became the fathers of the dynasties. The elder was called John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and his younger brother was Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. Their descendants formed two important clans - the Lancasters and the Yorks. Both clans derived from royal blood, and both produced ambitious men who were willing to fight for the throne.

After the death of Edward III, King Richard II - who was descended from Edward's eldest son, and was thus neither a York nor a Lancaster - ruled for twenty-two years. However, he was soon overthrown by his cousin (the son of John the Gaunt), a Lancaster named Henry Bolingbroke who became Henry IV. Henry IV was in turn succeeded by his son, Henry V, who was succeeded by his son, Henry VI.

During the reign of Henry VI, fighting broke out between the two Lancasters - led by the King and Margaret, his warrior queen - and the Yorks, led by the brothers Edward, Clarence, and Richard. After a bloody struggle, the Lancastrian Henry VI was deposed and the head of the house of York took the throne as King Edward IV. In battle, Henry's son and destined heir, Edward, Prince of Wales was killed by the three brothers and Queen Margaret was captured and exiled. Henry VI was executed by Richard. With the victorious Yorks - Edward and his Queen Elizabeth - ascneding the throne, the action of Richard III begins.