The statue of Justice, Old Bailey, London.

Way back in  1980 the late Jeremy Potter,  Chairman of the Richard III Society,  and producer Richard Drewitt discussed King Richard III at length and an idea was born.    That was to put Richard  on trial for a heinous murder he had been  held responsible for over the centuries,  that of the murder of his brother Edward IVs young sons.   I’ve always found this strange as is it not the responsibilty for the accusers to prove the guilt of someone and not the other way around?  Anyway, this ‘germ‘ of an idea took root and after numerous obstacles the trial finally took place and was recorded on the 21 February 1984.


The judge was Lord Elwyn Jones of Llanelli and Newham, who had served as Lord Chancellor in 1974-79 and had acted as a prosecutor at the war crimes trial at Nuremberg.  Lord Elwyn Jones made the comment ‘As the great historian Lord Acton wrote history is a judgement seat and Richard III is to be tried before the bar of history’.  

Lord Elwyn Jones of Llanelli and Newham

The services of two Queen’s Council  of the highest calibre were secured who received permission from the  Bar Council to appear with the instructions they were to remain anonymous and not to wear their wigs although permission was granted for them to be able to wear their black gowns. To preserve their anonymity the council for the prosecution used his mother’s maiden name of Russell and the defence counsel chose Dillon ‘a treasured family name’.  The researchers met frequently with Mr Russell, not so much with Mr Dillon,  partly because he was ‘busy with cases in distant parts of the country and partly because he preferred to play his cards close to his chest. So much so that during the trial he made at least one telling point that had not emerged in discussions with any of the witnesses, the production team or even from the literature of the period‘.  Both barristers were supplied with copies of all relevant contemporary documents such as the Second Continuation of the  Croyland Chronicle and Mancini’s De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, The  Usurpation of King Richard III with assessments of their value and significance.  


Mr Dillon QC Defence Barrister.  

They also received background dossiers on the leading characters in the drama.   As the  barristers begun to develop their cases they requested briefs on questions that were puzzling them such as the taking of sanctuary in the 15th century, the power of Parliament at the time, the consequences of attainder and the autumn rebellion of 1483.  The stage was beginning to get set…

What of the witnesses?   Academic historians were approached although first attempts proved discouraging.   The first Tudor expert they approached, Professor Geoffrey Elton,  refused to have anything to do with the programme on the grounds that ‘as far as he and most historians were concerned Richard III  was a gangster who had killed the princes‘ and thus further debate was pointless.  Not all historians were so unhelpful with many taking the time and trouble to cooperate with the researchers.  Among these were Dr A L Rouse, Dr Rosemary Horrox, Dr C A J Armstrong (Mancini’s editor), although Professor Ross was unwell at the time so he was asked to prepare a statement.   However one of Ross’ former students,  Dr Tony Pollard, author of The Tyranny of Richard III stepped up to the plate and was one of the first recruits to the team of witnesses for the prosecution team. Dr David Starkey followed – oh the joy! – as did historian Jeffrey Richards.


The Starkey Death Stare….





  1. I’m old enough to have seen it first hand and I’m pretty sure that “Mr Dillon” for the Defence was actually Edward du Cann QC – rules at the time prevented real names being used, and one of his middle names was Dillon! He was quite famed for many real-life cases. I also recall Nancy Banks Smith in her tv review of the programme next day dubbing Dr Starkey as The Mongoose! Beautiful! I’ve thought of him as that ever since!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes Anne..Mr Dillon was indeed Edward du Cann. From what I read ‘Dillon’ was a favourite family nickname although you may well be right in that it was his middle name. What a lovely man he seemed. I believe he died quite soon after the ‘trial’ which saddens me.


  2. One of my memories of this programme is that in the broadcast Edward du Cann asked David Starkey a question or two and then said ‘No more questions ‘ and sat down. Starkey for once was silenced.
    Now I wonder if this is a false memory.


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