Thomas More’s historical legacy: The tudor tragedies of King Richard III

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Thomas More’s History of Richard III is a metahistory, rich in factual and fictional details. I will discuss More’s concept of historiography as a rhetorical art and how his presentation of history transformed details of what was imperfectly known about Richard III into a polemic about what should be believed as an irrefutable truth. More’s conception of history is much more amorphous than modern theories. He incorporated classical myths, literature, history, and philosophy along with phantasies, dreams, and oral testimonies to recreate his historical Richard III as a tragic figure. More saw patterns of immoral behavior deeply rooted in the histories of the Plantagenet kings from the twelfth century to 1485 as if the sins of the fathers are repeated by their children. More used his sources, the antiquarian John Rous, the historian Polydore Vergil, and the oral history of Archbishop/Cardinal John Morton to prove that the immorality of the Plantagenets, embodied in Richard III, was a curse that will be purged from England by the ascendance of Henry VII. William Shakespeare copied and embellished More’s tragic vision of Richard III. Their historical facts and fictions enhanced their moral signification of the rise and fall of Richard III in English history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-201
Number of pages31
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Amici Thomae Mori.


  • Edward IV
  • Elizabeth Woodville
  • Henry Tudor
  • John of Gaunt
  • Margaret Beaufort
  • Metahistory
  • Richard Duke of Gloucester
  • Thomas More
  • William Shakespeare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Law


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