Thursday, September 20, 2012

Richard III: More Reflections

Gareth Russell ponders what kind of funeral Richard should be given.
On a purely pragmatic note, reburying Richard III with full state honours poses several problems in 2012. The first is that it would divide the country, not unite it; no matter what Richard's enthusiasts say, there is still a large cloud hanging over his involvement with his nephews and many - myself included - believe he was responsible for their deaths. Secondly, reburying a five hundred year old skeleton with the honours we would give to a recently-deceased royal, is wasteful and extravagant, particularly in the middle of a recession. Thirdly, Richard III died a practising medieval Catholic; he was killed thirty-two years before the Protestant religion even began. The official state religion of the United Kingdom today is Anglican Protestantism and the current Sovereign, who would need to grant permission for Richard to be buried on royal ground, is the head of that Church. Should we re-bury Richard III with the religious services of a church that he would quite probably have viewed as schismatic and heretical? Or should we compromise the spirit of the 1701 Act of Settlement and have a Catholic British state funeral? I don't think it's right that Catholicism is still being legislatively punished when it comes to the monarchy, but it's the law of the land. One way or the other, a state funeral would compromise the integrity of a monarch - if it's Protestant, Richard III; if it's Catholic, Elizabeth II. (Read entire post.)
A full biography of Richard III is HERE.

This post has made me do some brushing up on Richard III. I fell in love with Richard when I was 14 and read Rosemary Hawley Jarman's novel We Speak No Treason. Decades later, I try to be more objective than I was then. I still wonder, however, why Richard, who was known for his political shrewdness and his ability to work the system, would have done something so stupid as to have his nephews killed. Murders of that kind are hard to cover up, even in the Tower. It would have been a clumsy move for someone who had shown himself to be pretty astute.

The boys, even after being declared illegitimate, were still a possible rallying point for Richard's enemies, particularly the remaining Woodville faction, which is why he would never have shown them to the public. I think it is more likely that he hid them somewhere, probably in the Tower by keeping them from view. Or else he had them sent away for their own safety, and his. I think it more likely they were killed in the upheavals which followed Bosworth. The size of the skeletons which were found under the staircase do show the boys to have been around 11 and 14, which means they could have lived well into 1485 (unless they were just big for their ages).

In Richard's life, other than the alleged murder of his nephews, is there any solid evidence of his committing atrocities, such as there would be in the lives of Edward I, the Black Prince, and other Plantagenet rulers? No. Did Richard ever preside over the wholesale slaughter of civilians? No. He was accused of murdering most of the main players on the Wars of the Roses, but is there proof that he actually did any of it? No. Therefore, I see the murder of his nephews uncharacteristic of someone who knew how to play the game both militarily and politically without resorting to massacre and mayhem.

The skeleton at Leicester shows that Richard (if it is truly he) was struck from behind. It also shows that he had scoliosis, which made one shoulder higher than the other, not that he was hunchback. A hunchback would not have been physically able to have participated in the strenuous military campaigns which Richard took part in from his early teens until the moment of his death. He died struck from behind, knowing he had been betrayed, after leading a courageous charge into the heart of the enemy's ranks. He at least deserves a military funeral.