Archetypal Richard III: Why Your Richard and My Richard Will Never Be the Same Man

Statue of Saint Michael defeating Satan, by Jacob Epstein, on the exterior wall of Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands, Coventry, England. (Photo by Steve Cadman; used by permission [stevecadman on Flickr].)
Statue of Saint Michael defeating Satan, by Jacob Epstein, on the exterior wall of Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands, Coventry, England. (Photo by Steve Cadman; used by permission [stevecadman on Flickr].)

“Without a bad guy, who could ever be good?”
~The Agent, “Sweet Redemption Music Company”

“Though it puzzles me to learn that though a man may be in doubt of what he knows, very quickly will he fight to prove that what he does not know is so.”
~”The King and I”

Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell,
Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,
Thou loathèd issue of thy father’s loins,
Thou rag of honor, thou detested—
~”Richard III” Act I, Scene III

“This is a man who stumbles and falls, but this is a man who tries. This is a man you forgive and forgive, and help and protect as long as you live.”
~”The King and I”

Speaking Archetypally

Have you ever said something like, “She’s a real witch,” or “He’s an absolute prince”? In that moment, you’ve looked at someone – or something – as an Archetypal Figure, and you’ve been speaking Archetype.

World history, religion, literature, and pop culture are full of Archetypal Figures. King Arthur, Lancelot, Elvis, William Wallace, Dracula, Buddha, Lord Elrond, Satan, Jesus Christ, Darth Vader, Superman, Hello Kitty, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Michael and Uriel, and the Grim Reaper are just a few.

Shakespeare created the Archetypal Richard III, and for centuries many members of the audience have believed the Archetypal Figure is true to the man. Other audience members reject the Shakespearean model. They see the play and its characters as good literature, but bad biography. To them, this particular medieval king is a man needing his reputation and honor snatched back from the Tudors and restored.


Why Some People Hate Richard, But Are Incapable of Leaving Him Alone

Let’s say that I don’t like a contemporary singer, I’ll call him Munster Zample. A cursory search online reveals no one by the name of Munster Zample, so if a real Munster Zample is out there, please know that I’m not talking about you, and I mean you no harm.

Let’s say that I can’t stand [fictional] Munster, either as a man or as a singer. I don’t spend any of my time ferreting out the facts of his life or art, nor do I devote hours online spitting venom about him or his actions. I also don’t attack his friends, his family, or his fans. Munster Zample is off my planet to the point that if I run into a headline about him, I don’t bother reading the article. In short, I’m not interested in Munster Zample: I don’t care about what he’s up to, and I don’t feel the necessity to attack or attempt to influence any of his admirers. They’re welcome to him.

I can’t say the same about a few people who dislike or even loathe Richard III. A contingent referred to as “The Cairo Dwellers” repeatedly attack Richard and his supporters in a way that neatly parallels how Richard’s supporters repeatedly support him. “The Cairo Dwellers” are called thus because many members of this contingent travel far up the River of Denial while presenting their misconceptions as valid facts and arguments.

For a long time, I’ve wondered why those who see Richard as a victimizing, regicidal usurper, and those who see Richard III as no saint but still a victim of Tudor propaganda endlessly debate, argue, and attack one another, in print and online, in a useless attempt to prove one another wrong. Both Richard’s virtues and sins are so obscured at this distance, there are no absolute truths or proofs available to us regarding the real man, his motivations, or his actual actions. This lack means the debate can never end.

In the end, everyone – professional or amateur – who studies Richard sees him as they are, rather than the way Richard himself was. Each of us chooses a side, and off we go. I’ve learned that someone’s position regarding Richard III tells me far more about that someone than it does about Richard III. I’ve come to realize that each person interested in Richard’s life and times, whether in a negative or a positive way, has unconsciously attached an Archetypal Figure (or Figures) to him, and to those surrounding him as well.


What the Heck is an Archetypal Figure?

Two definitions of an Archetype are:

  1. A recurring symbol, particularly in art or literature.
  2. An original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied, or on which they are based; an artistic or literary prototype.

Examples of Archetypal Figures in art or literature are:

  1. Archetypal Tragic Hero/Heroine: Richard III (can also be a Hero), King Lear, Macbeth, Cassandra, Joan of Arc (can also be a Heroine), Anna Karenina. First you pity the Tragic Hero or Heroine as their fortunes fall, then you watch their downfall and sometimes their death due to a tragic flaw.
  1. Archetypal Hero/Heroine: Richard III (can also be a Tragic Hero), Frodo (can also be a Tragic Hero per Tolkien), Aragorn, Harry Potter, Elizabeth I, Hermione Granger, Joan of Arc (can also be a Tragic Heroine). Every Archetypal Hero or Heroine has an inherent virtue, a kind heart, and exhibits goodness. He or she is often alone in the world: many heroes/heroines are orphans, or they’ve experienced significant loss(es) before the story begins. In the course of the story, the hero or heroine fights an inherent evil or injustice in an attempt to restore balance and fairness to the world.


Welcome to the Light Side, and to the Dark Side: Both Sides Have Cookies

Every Archetypal Figure has a Light Side and a Shadow Side. Ironically enough, the qualities or faults that we dislike or even despise about a real or not-real individual are the qualities or faults we find in ourselves or in our behavior. This basically means if I loathe:

  1. The Saboteur in my manager who keeps sabotaging me by claiming my work as her own; or
  2. The Prostitute in my boyfriend whose “price” is a $100,000-a-year salary paid by a CEO who values my boyfriend’s willingness to “tweak” the profits ; or
  3. The Anti-Hero in Anakin Skywalker who is unrealistically redeemed by one good deed (saving his son’s life) after decades of deliberately hurting innocent people; or
  4. The Evil-Usurper in Richard III who executed the Knight in Anthony Woodville because Anthony was a pious and scholarly man who didn’t deserve to die, no matter what role he played after Edward IV died…

…it’s because something in the Saboteur, Prostitute, Anti-Hero, or Evil-Usurper’s Shadow Attributes is mirroring me. That is, I’m looking into a symbolic mirror that’s showing me something inside of me that I need to work on.

My strong reaction to any Archetypal Figure is a warning flare sent up by my inner-self. In the above examples, the message sent might be:

  1. I need to stop Sabotaging myself through my current boss’s dishonesty and find another job.
  2. Can I be bought? If so, what’s my price? How am I currently Prostituting myself – selling myself to the highest bidder rather than honoring my personal values?
  3. and 4. I need to stop being the sort of person who seeks to hurt other people before or after they’ve hurt me.

Take courage, because there’s a flip side to the squirmy realization that we’re as flawed as the people and characters we pass judgment on.

Have you ever felt an illogical, instantaneous attraction and admiration (more emotional or intellectual than sexual) to someone? Have you ever wanted to be near someone you just met, to take lessons in painting or acting or underwater basket-weaving from this person, regardless you have no prior interest in what they can teach you? Have you ever just wanted to spend time with someone because you’re inexplicably drawn to just listen to them or to be in their presence?

The people (alive or dead, real or not-real) we admire or are drawn to with this sort of magnetism possess Archetypal Light Attributes that are important to us. What we admire in them are usually attributes we need to develop in our own lives.

Let’s say I admire Lord Elrond of Lord of the Rings. I’m deeply attracted to Rivendell, which Elrond created as an Archetypal sanctuary and haven. If I dig deep enough to discover the symbolic Archetypal message behind my attraction to this fictional character, I’ll discover that I need to create a sanctuary and haven for myself in my real life. If I don’t dig deep enough to Figure out why Elrond resonates with me, then I’m liable to channel my attraction into something that creates a false sanctuary and haven in my real life – like writing fan-fiction based on Elrond and Rivendell, or projecting what I’m attracted to in Elrond onto an actor portraying him and following the actor’s career, which would get me nowhere in my own life.

Your strong reaction to any Archetypal Figure is akin to your inner bell signaling that your inner-self is trying to tell you one of four things:

  1. I want to be that; or
  2. I want to do that; or
  3. I don’t want to be like that; or
  4. I’m like that, and I need to change.


How Does All This Relate to Richard III and Others in His Life & Times?

Below is a table listing the Archetypal Figures, along with their light and dark attributes, which can be applied to how we see Richard III, Margaret Beaufort, and Henry Tydder.[i]

I was surprised at how many Archetypal Figures can be applied to Richard, Margaret and Henry. The list below isn’t exhaustive, either: you can likely come up with a number of others. The excessive number of Archetypal Figures that can be applied to these three people helps explain why so many people have such strong reactions to them, and why one person sees something in them another does not.

The Figures below are presented in alphabetical order. Note that some Archetypes cross over; meaning if you compare Richard and Margaret’s Figures, you’ll find they share some. The same applies to a comparison of Margaret and Henry, or Henry and Richard, or Henry and Margaret. This is because you personally interpret the Figures based on your own life experience and what the symbols for each Figure have come to mean to you.

What you see in Richard, Margaret, and Henry’s Archetypal Figures will never entirely match what someone else sees. In fact, disagreement is likely because each person works from their own symbolic, Archetypal meanings. And that’s just fine. No one’s reaction to or interpretation of these Archetypes is more or less valid than anyone else’s because different symbols mean different things to different people.

At this distance, Richard, Margaret, and Henry have all become Archetypal Figures themselves. So what you’re ultimately looking at in the tables below are layers and sub-layers of symbolic meaning, and the meanings are all your own. Remember: in the end, what you see in these Archetypes is like looking into a mirror; the Figures and their symbols reveal more about yourself than they do about the historical people involved.

While reviewing any Archetypal Figure, please try to remember that while each Archetype has a Light side and a Shadow side, it doesn’t follow that the Light side is good and the Shadow side is evil. Every Archetype and Archetypal Figure are neutral. We’re the ones who assign “good” and “bad” to their attributes.

Incidentally, you won’t easily change the way you view an Archetypal Figure, and neither will anyone else. Since every person’s view of a personal Archetype is buried deep in their psyche and based on their personal, intimate experiences with life itself, it’s folly to bully or mock someone in an attempt to change the way they see an Archetypal Figure. It just won’t work.

You may succeed in hurting the other person, but you’ll never understand why they feel the way they do about their own Archetypal Richard III, or any other Archetypal Figure in his circle. Neither will they ever understand yours.

And that’s all right.


Advocate Inspired to put compassion into action. Embracing negative causes or committing to causes for personal gain.
Child: Wounded Awakens compassion and desire to serve other Wounded Children. Opens the learning path of forgiveness. Blames all dysfunctional relationships on childhood wounds. Resists moving on through forgiveness.
Companion Loyalty, tenacity, and unselfishness. Betrayal by misusing confidences. Loss of personal identity.
Father Talent for creating and supporting life. Positive guiding light within a tribal unit. Dictatorial control. Abuse of authority.
God Benevolence & compassion. Recognizing the eternal force within oneself and others. Despotism & cruelty. Using power to control people.
Knight Loyalty, romance, and chivalry. A love of honor. Allegiance to a destructive ruler or principle. Romantic delusions.
Judge Balancing justice & compassion. Managing the fair distribution of power. Offering only destructive criticism. Misusing business, legal, or criminal authority.
King Enlightened, benevolent leadership. Benefiting those ruled over. Excessive feelings of entitlement. Rulership without restraint.
Lover Great passion & devotion. Unbridled appreciation of someone or something. Obsessive passion that harms others. Self-destructive devotion.
Martyr Learning the transcendent nature of service to oneself or a cause. Addition to self-pity.
Mediator Gift for negotiating fairness & strategy in personal and professional life. Respect for both sides of an argument. Negotiating with an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, either personally or professionally.
Messiah Serving humanity with humility. Exaggerated belief that you are the only means through which a cause can succeed.
Prince Romantic charm & potential for power. Using power for self-aggrandizement.
Rescuer Provides strength & support to others in crisis. Acts out of love with no expectation of reward. Assumes the rescued will reciprocate. Keeps the rescued one needy.
Samaritan Refines your capacity to help those you would prefer to ignore. Exacting appreciation & recognition for the help you offer.
Warrior Strength, skill, discipline, and toughness of will. Heroism, stoicism, & self-sacrifice in conquering the ego. Trading ethical principles for victory at any cost. Indifference to the suffering inflicted on others.


Avenger Desire to balance the scales of justice. Resorting to violence in the name of a cause.
Destroyer Releasing what is potentially destructive. Preparing for new life. Intoxication with destructive power. Destroying others’ dreams or potential.
Gossip Awakens consideration for the feelings of others. Honoring trust. Thrives on the power of passing on private or secret information. Betraying confidences.
Martyr Learning the transcendent nature of service to oneself or a cause. Addiction to self-pity.
Mentor Passing on wisdom & refining a student’s character. Inability to allow the student to move on to the role of Master. Imparting false instruction.
Mother Nurturance, patience, unconditional love. Joy in giving birth to life. Smothering or abandoning children. Instilling guilt in children for becoming independent.
Networker Enhances unity through the sharing of information. Engenders social awareness and empathy. Conveys information only for personal gain. Spreads fear and falsehood.
Queen Radiates a regal feminine. Uses her benevolent authority to protect others. Becomes arrogant when authority is challenged. Controlling and demanding.
Rescuer Provides strength and support to others in crisis. Acts out of love with no expectation of reward. Assumes the rescued will reciprocate. Keeps the rescued one needy.
Shape-Shifter Skill at navigating through different levels of consciousness. Ability to see the potential in everything. Projecting any image that serves your personal agenda in the moment.
Trickster Transcending convention, stuffiness, & predictable behavior. Manipulating others through duplicity.
Warrior Strength, skill, discipline, & toughness of will. Heroism, stoicism, and self-sacrifice in conquering the ego. Trading ethical principles for victory at any cost. Indifference to the suffering inflicted on others.


Beggar Confronts empowerment at the level of physical survival. Awakens the spiritual authority of humility, compassion, & self-esteem Dependence on others to the exclusion of effort.
Bully Highlights your tendency to intimidate others. Helps you confront the inner fears that bully you. Conceals deep fears behind verbal or physical abuse.
Child: Eternal Determination to remain young in body, mind, and spirit. Ability to see things with fresh eyes. Inability to grow up and be responsible. Extreme dependency on others for physical security.
Gambler Willingness to follow intuition, even when others doubt you. Relying on luck rather than hard work.
God Benevolence & compassion. Recognizing the eternal force within oneself and others. Despotism & cruelty. Using power to control people.
King Enlightened, benevolent leadership. Benefiting those ruled over. Excessive feelings of entitlement. Rulership without restraint.
Liberator Freeing yourself & others from outmoded beliefs. Releasing negative thought patterns. Imposing your own tyranny over those you claim to liberate. Ignoring legitimate constraints.
Midas/Miser Entrepreneurial or creative ability to turn anything to gold. Delight in sharing life’s riches. Hoarding money and emotions. Obsessive fear of losing your wealth.
Scribe Preserving knowledge & information. Altering facts or plagiarizing others’ work.


[i] The definitions are taken from Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards. An invaluable source if you want to discern how Archetypal Figures affect your entire life and not just your point of view about Richard III is Myss’s book, Sacred Contracts.



  1. It’s a comfort to know that it’s never about “mine” nor “yours” nor “anybody else’s”. It’s about the real person when he/she finally meets God vis à vis. Everything else is “vanitas vanitatis” and will eventually turn to dust.

    I must acknowledge this reminder of wisdom to the preacher who held the sermon in Sutton Cheeney shortly before Richard’s reinterment.


  2. I’ve been reading and studying about Richard since I was a senior in high school in 1970. I have gone through several phases, and I can honestly say that I do not have a fixed opinion on whether Richard was responsible for the deaths of the Princes, if they were murdered at all.
    I know that I originally was drawn to be a defender of Richard and to campaign for restoring his reputation. Josephine Tey touches on this in her book. To find a cause that needed righting was very appealing to me.


  3. I’ve been interested in ‘archetypes’ for a long time as I am very drawn to myth and to aspects of Jungian psychological analysis. I agree that historical figures become mythic even within their own life times and certainly their reputation becomes overlaid with mythical additions and distortions over time and especially so in the case of controversial figures.
    The debate becomes increasingly impassioned on all sides and I say ‘ALL’ because that is where the archetypal analysis can be a constriction. The duality implied by each archetype and shadow narrows our capacity to see a ‘rainbow’ interpretation of a particular figure which is probably the closest we can ever get to the reality of their true personality. People are a complex prism of different drives and emotions and we seek to categorize and label in order to try and find order in what is usually a very dis-ordered and contradictory set of character traits and motivations.

    How far can anyone born in the C20th truly understand a C15th mindset when our experience of the world is so incredibly different? Our exposure to science, our relationship with faith and society, our link to nature and understanding of mortality are all so fundamentally different. None of us act in a vacuum and therefore to understand Richard of Margaret of Henry we also need to account for the people close to them who formed and shaped them and reacted to them throughout their lives. We need to know what was whispered into their ears when they fell asleep as children, what nightmares haunted them in the dark hours, which saints protected them, who bullied them and who inspired them. Where did they turn for comfort or security and how afraid were they of what lay beyond the final door? Any historical analysis which fails to grasp the essential ‘humanity’ of their lives fails at the most basis level and therefore we must approach each of them intuitively, cautiously, as we might a traumatized child who we seek to understand and assist. There is always room for compassion and empathy but not for white-washing or hero-worship. Judgements are usually flawed because we can not know what other factors weighed in the original decision and may very well be overlooking a crucially important piece of information which is now lost to us or even something as inconsequential as a moment of lost concentration or physical impairment. Sometimes we all snap because we are over-tired or fail our friends because we are pre-occupied with a random thought. These lapses are magnified when the stakes are high and yet can we blame and judge others when our own mistakes do not have such enormous consequences?

    For every action we could write multiple analyses of why each character acted or reacted as they did. Reaction is often overlooked in the desire to write historical narrative – some take the example of the death of Edward IV and create a ‘plausible’ narrative which sets Richard as the prime ‘actor’ while others see him as a passive reactionary figure which completely changes the way in which we construe the course of events, some see him as the motivator – using Hastings and Buckingham to his own advantage, others see them as the motivators – the author of the letter which urged him to intercept the prince etc… Cause and effect, aggressors and defenders, movers and pawns. It all depends on your perception of events and most historians want to connect facts with argument so they choose a perspective and stick to it whereas the reality may well have been much more muddled and conflicted.

    Fear and desire, chance and bad luck all play a part in what lead those people to their fates. Historians need the wisdom to understand that lives are inter-woven with these core drives beyond the control of those caught up in events and that all of the players were as subject to external forces which made them struggle and doubt and despair and hope in equal measure.


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