Richard, Duke of Gloucester declares an end to civil war and the arrival of peace, but reveals to the audience his ambition to become King of England. Meeting his brother George, Duke of Clarence on the way to prison, Richard promises to help him to freedom.
Lady Anne and her attendants bring the body of her father-in-law, King Henry VI, towards its final resting place. Though Richard killed her husband and her father-in-law, he woos Anne to be his wife.
Richard complains bitterly of Clarence’s arrest to Queen Elizabeth, Rivers, Dorset, Grey, the Duke of Buckingham and Lords Stanley and Hastings. All are accosted and cursed by Queen Margaret, the widow of Henry VI.
Hired by Richard, two murderers kill Clarence in the Tower of London.
Richard’s eldest brother, the ailing King Edward IV persuades his wife, Queen Elizabeth, her brother Rivers (and her sons from a previous marriage, Dorset and Grey) to reconcile differences with Hastings and Buckingham. Buckingham asks God to punish him should he prove treacherous. Richard brings news of Clarence’s execution at the King’s command. Stunned, the King staggers toward his chambers, where he soon dies.
It is determined that the King’s son, Edward Prince of Wales, should be brought to London to be crowned.
Richard and Buckingham send Queen Elizabeth’s brother Rivers and son Grey to be executed at Pomfret prison. Meanwhile, Lord Hastings asserts a preference to lose his head rather than see Richard become King…and gets his wish.
Buckingham publicly calls on Richard to accept the crown. Richard declines twice—then accepts. Lady Anne is summoned to become his queen. Dorset flees to join Richmond.
Richard is crowned and enlists Tyrrel to murder Elizabeth’s young sons, Edward (Prince of Wales) and Richard (the Duke of York) in the Tower of London.
Richard soon faces opposition from Richmond, whom Buckingham has joined. Richard instructs Catesby to “rumor it abroad” that Anne, his wife, is sick and likely to die.
Queen Margaret levies a final round of revengeful curses, and the Duchess of York curses her son. Richard seeks Elizabeth’s permission to marry her young daughter of the same name.
Richard calls upon the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Stanley and others to defend against Richmond and his allies. Holding Stanley’s son George prisoner, Richard affirms the young man will die if Stanley’s men do not fight on behalf of the King.
Buckingham is captured and led to execution.
Near the town of Leicester, Richmond and Richard’s armies camp in Bosworth field. On the night before the battle, ghosts of those whom Richard has killed visit both leaders.
After Richard’s horse is slain in battle, he offers a kingdom for another. He and Richmond fight; Richard is slain.
Richmond pardons the soldiers of the King and declares his intent to marry the young Elizabeth, uniting the long-divided nation.