As they wait for Hastings, who has been commissioned to fetch the Duke of York and Queen Elizabeth, Richard assures Prince Edward (the Prince of Wales) that the Prince’s uncle and step-brother on his mother’s side, Earl Rivers and Lord Grey, have been imprisoned for good reason, that they meant to do Prince Edward harm. Anon, Hastings arrives with the news that the Queen and the young Duke, fearing for their safety, have taken sanctuary and will on no account consent to be removed from their sanctuary. Nonetheless, a second attempt to fetch the Duke of York (to the exclusion of the Queen), proves successful, reuniting the brothers.
York, noticing his brother’s superior height, baits Richard to liken Prince Edward to an intractable weed, and when Richard doesn’t take the bait he makes fun of Richard’s humped-backed physique with a subtlety that impresses both Buckingham and Hastings. By and by, Prince Edward and York grudgingly allow themselves to be led to the Tower which will be their temporary residence and which is where their mother will be brought--or so Richard promises them.
Richard has gotten Buckingham on board with regards his scheme to make himself England‘s sovereign, and now he wonders if he can get the Lords Hastings and Stanley on board. As Hastings has left in the company of the Prince and the Duke of York, Richard and Buckingham commission Catesby to ferret out Lord Hastings true mind, which is one with Lord Stanley’s--what Lord Hastings thinks and does Lord Stanley will think and do. When asked what he’ll do if Hastings refuses to cooperate, Richard replies that there’ll be nothing else to do but to behead Hastings, adding that Buckingham will profit handsomely for his continued support of Richard.
In the wee hours of the night, a messenger arrives from Lord Stanley to warn Lord Hastings of the imminent danger posed by Richard to his--Hastings’--welfare. Hastings sends words back to the effect that it’s unwise to act rashly and thereby to invite danger when that danger can be kept at arms length by remaining calm and acting with discretion. Presently, Catesby arrives to inform Lord Hastings that Richard will count on Hastings’ support in return for having his adversaries, Rivers and Grey, who had been responsible for having Hastings confined to the Tower, executed. Correctly concluding that Richard means to make himself King, Hastings emphatically objects to Richard’s scheme which Catesby ostensibly applauds. (Covertly, Catesby pities Hastings as he’ll be beheaded.) Later, Catesby’s secret sentiments are echoed by Buckingham who accompanies Hastings to the Tower for a meeting that will determine when England’s new sovereign will be crowned.
Ratcliffe, one of Richard’s henchmen, hastens the execution of Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan, as they, having exclaimed the act to be unjustified and having denounced their executioners as murderers who will regret their having taken part in the atrocity, share brotherly embraces.
A meeting is being held as to the coronation of England‘s new sovereign. As Richard is absent, Buckingham is asked to speak on behalf of Richard. When Buckingham concedes that honor to Hastings, arguing that Hastings is closer to Richard than any one else present, Hastings foolishly agrees and takes up the honor. Subsequently, Richard appears, and having magnanimously greeted everyone, pulls Buckingham aside to share a private word. Richard reappears to exclaim that there is a traitor amongst them who means to have Richard killed. Hastings exclaims that such a traitor deserves instant death. Richard exclaims that the traitor consorts with Jane Shore, King Edward’s mistress, and as Lord Hastings is the man who is currently involved with Jane Shore that Hastings is the traitor. By and by, as he is led to the chopping block, Lord Hastings laments the fact that he had ignored the numerous signs throughout the day, not to mention Lord Stanley’s direct appeal to flee, that had warned him of the impending danger to his person.
For the purpose of persuading Londoners to embrace Richard as England’s next rightful sovereign, the Mayor is fetched for by Catesby. The Mayor is asked to facilitate as Buckingham will explain and justify to Londoners Lord Hasting’s execution. The Mayor agrees to this, unaware that what Richard and Buckingham really have in mind is to persuade Londoners that King Edward IV is really a bastard, making his sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the illegitimate heirs to the throne.
The scrivener, who drafts the official document indicting Hastings of treason, reflects on the foul practice that he is made to play a part in (Lord Hastings’ enemies having contrived to make Lord Hastings’guilt a foregone conclusion) and of how it will eventually and soon be the undoing of the villain himself.
When it becomes apparent that Richard and Buckingham’s stratagem has failed to move the London citizens (not one of them had joined the cry of “God save King Richard”), they resort to plan B. Richard feigns to reject Buckingham’s exhortation to assume the throne, arguing that he is ill-equipped for the job and moreover that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to steal the crown from his brother’s rightful heir, to which Buckingham argues that his brother’s rightful heir is actually illegitimate as he is the offspring of Edward’s union with a widow whom Edward’s mother never sanctioned, and that if Richard refuses to accept the crown, the people will choose someone at random to take the throne if only to prevent Edward’s illegitimate son from ascending to the throne. Incredibly, plan B works. Richard grudgingly accepts to be crowned England's new king to the unanimous approval of the people.