Full synopsis

Jonjo O'Neill and Pippa Nixon in rehearsal for Richard III

Shakespeare wrote four plays covering the Wars of the Roses - Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3, and Richard III.
It's based on Sir Thomas More's unfinished History of King Richard III, which is largely untrue.

Peace at last?

At the end of the bloody Wars of the Roses between the rival Houses of Lancaster and York, the victorious Yorkists look forward to a period of peace under the newly-crowned Edward IV. But Edward's younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has other ideas...

A deformed and jealous Richard tells the audience that he is a villain who plans to get the throne for himself. He begins by secretly plotting to have his brother George, Duke of Clarence, imprisoned in the tower.

To further his plans, Richard intends to marry Lady Anne Neville. On Richard's orders, her husband, the Prince of Wales, was killed in battle and her father-in-law, Henry VI, was murdered.

Richard proposes to Anne and wins her, over Henry VI's dead body.

A curse, a warning and more deaths

As Edward IV fails in health, his Queen and Richard argue. Queen Margaret, widow to Henry VI, curses them all for their disloyalty to her dead husband and warns the Duke of Buckingham not to trust Richard.

Richard arranges the murder of Clarence, his brother, in prison. Edward blames himself for his brother's death and dies shortly after.

Richard, the Lord Protector

Edward leaves behind him two young sons, not old enough to rule. Richard is appointed Lord Protector of England and orders the execution of the Queen's two brothers, Grey and Rivers.

Queen Elizabeth and her younger son, the Duke of York, claim sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.

On arrival in London, Edward, Prince of Wales, asks for his mother, younger brother and uncles. Richard's allies arrange for the Duke of York to be brought from sanctuary.

Richard tells young Edward that his maternal uncles were treacherous and suggests that he and his brother should lodge in the Tower of London until the coronation.

The plot thickens

Richard learns that the powerful Lord Hastings will not support his claim to the throne. He falsely accuses Hastings of plotting and has him executed.

With Buckingham and Catesby, Richard stages a 'riot' to convince the Lord Mayor that the threat from Hastings was real.

Buckingham spreads rumours that Edward's children are not true heirs because they are illegitimate.

The conspirators then present Richard to the people as a pious and unwilling claimant to the throne. He is acknowledged king and Tyrel is sent by Richard to murder the two young princes in the tower.

The backlash

As the people of England become increasingly fearful of Richard, he falls out with his chief ally, Buckingham.

The Earl of Richmond, a member of the House of Lancaster, also has a claim to the throne and gathers forces in France to challenge Richard.

To strengthen his own claim, Richard arranges to have his wife Anne murdered, and begs Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter, the young Elizabeth, on his behalf.

Spoiler alert! Stop here if you don't want to know how it ends

Richard's plans begin to unravel. Queen Elizabeth secretly agrees to marry her daughter to Richmond, who arrives in England to challenge Richard on Bosworth Field.

The night before the battle, the ghosts of the people Richard has had murdered appear to him in a dream, cursing him and praying for Richmond's success.

After fighting bravely, Richard is killed in battle by Richmond, who becomes King Henry VII. Promising a new era of peace for England, the new king is betrothed to the young Elizabeth, uniting the warring Houses of York and Lancaster.

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