Monday, September 17, 2012

Richard III: Found at Last?

The excavations at Leicester have yielded some fruit, as all the old controversies regarding the last Plantagenet King of England are revived. As the BBC reports:
The English king died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. A dig under a council car park in Leicester has found remains with spinal abnormalities and a "cleaved-in skull" that suggest it could be Richard III. The University of Leicester will now test the bones for DNA against descendants of Richard's family.
Professor Lin Foxhall, head of the university's School of Archaeology, said: "Archaeology almost never finds named individuals - this is absolutely extraordinary.

"Although we are far from certain yet, it is already astonishing."
A university spokesperson said the evidence included signs of a peri-mortem (near-death) trauma to the skull and a barbed iron arrow head in the area of the spine. Richard is recorded by some sources as having been pulled from his horse and killed with a blow to the head. The skeleton also showed severe scoliosis - a curvature of the spine. Although not as pronounced as Shakespeare's portrayal of the king as a hunchback, the condition would have given the adult male the appearance of having one shoulder higher than the other.

Philippe Langley, from the Richard III Society, said: "It is such a tumult of emotions, I am shell-shocked.

"I just feel happy and sad and excited all at the same time. It is very odd."

As the defeated foe, Richard was given a low-key burial in the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars. This was demolished in the 1530s, but documents describing the burial site have survived. The excavation, which began on 25 August, has uncovered the remains of the cloisters and chapter house, as well as the church. (Read entire article.)
Here is a Tudor historian's view from
So far, the media has excitedly revealed that the skeleton ‘reveals a hunchback king’. This is inaccurate in more than one way, but if the skeleton does turn out to be that of Richard III, it can potentially reveal to us several crucial facts:

• Whether Richard had scoliosis – a type of spinal curvature – or kyphosis – the hunchback that Shakespeare gives him. There’s a distinct difference between the two. The former would have made one shoulder higher than the other, as More attested, and may also have made one shoulder blade prominent.

• How this might have affected both Richard’s appearance and his physical abilities. There’s always been a tension between Richard III’s renowned skill on the battlefield and the supposed extremity of his deformities.

• How exactly Richard died. The king’s martial prowess and the fact that he came within feet of Henry Tudor, whom he could easily have bested in one-to-one combat (no one would have put odds on the chance of a Tudor victory in 1485), mean that the only real way to explain his demise at Bosworth was that he was attacked from behind, as the skeleton initially seems to suggest.

But, finally and crucially, if the skeleton does turn out to be that of Richard III, it will hopefully prompt us to reassess not only Richard himself – we’re thankfully beyond seeing physical disability as some sort of evidence of a twisted soul – but the reputations of both Shakespeare and, especially, More.

Should we conclude that the sainted More, a man of integrity who died a martyr rather than swear against his conscience, was a liar? That can of worms may be even more controversial than the story of Richard III himself. (Read entire article.)
In my opinion, it is ridiculous to say that St. Thomas More "lied."  More was a child when Richard was killed; he was too young to form his own opinions about the king. From the ages of twelve to fourteen More served as a page to John Morton, the Bishop of Ely and later the archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop was a stalwart foe of the house of York and in his household the future chancellor of England and martyr would have heard all the exaggerations about Richard which political foes love to bestow on each other. Under Henry VII stability appeared to be restored to England and so the king whose crown he stole quickly became part if the fabric of fairy-tale lore used to scare naughty children. Not that Richard III was a saint, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is just that he was probably not the twisted,  evil Quasimodo-like caricature as he has been popularly portrayed for centuries.

In the meantime, other aspects of Richard's life, such as his marriage, are being revisited. Did Anne Neville marry the then Duke of Gloucester out of a long, enduring love or was she forced to do so as some, including Shakespeare, have claimed? A Nevill Feast explores the question, saying:
The marriage of the duke and duchess of Gloucester would seem, for the most part, to have been a successful one.  Whether they loved each other deeply or not, they suited each other in many ways.  Anne got the status and security she needed, Richard got the wealth and the reflected glory in the north of his late father-in-law.  Any thoughts he might have had about divorce (he was a childless king; he’d disinherited his brother’s children on the grounds of bastardy; his own marriage wasn’t quite as unchallengeable as he might have liked) need not imply that he didn’t care about her.  Business, as they say, is business.  Anne would have thought very differently about it, but her death overtook events and, in the end, that was one humiliation she didn’t have to face.

I think Richard did quietly grieve for his queen when she died – for lost opportunities; for the support she surely was to him in the turbulence of his reign; for their son, both her hope and his of immortality; and for the strength of mind and personality she must have had in order to instigate their marriage and pave the way for him to rule so successfully, as duke of Gloucester, in the Nevill heartland. (Read entire post.)

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