Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Poor Richard



It was a tight race between Meg the history buff (and medival recreationist)  and Meg the theatre major to determine who was more excited to learn of the finding of the body of Richard III.
The pictures of the amazingly intact skeleton, showing clearly the spinal deformities, indicating that at least one aspect of Richard's myth was in fact accurate are impressive and moving to look at,

 
Photo from Reuters
 
For me the story resonates on a number of fronts. Richard has come down to us as one of the most villianous men in history, in a large part due to two of the greatest figures of England's literary Renaissance: Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare.  Both of them lived and wrote in the Tudor Era, for the successors of Henry VII, the man who deposed Richard.  To me the Plantagenet soap opera beats anything dreamed up on television, or anything the tabloids put out today about their descendents who are currently on the British Throne either.  I  find them totally fascinating.  They have also bene subjects of some amazing theatre, not only Shakespeare's history plays, but  modern works like Murder in the Cathedral, Beckett, and The Lion in Winter.  And Richard III was the last one to sit on the throne of England.
 
And Richard sits at the center of one of history's greatest mysteries, namely what happened to his young nephews, whom he confined to the Tower of London, after setting aside their claims to be next in line to the throne.  It's true Richard may well have been justified in doing so.  England had barely survived the reign of Henry VI, who came to the throne before he was a year old.  It was not a good time for another child king.  There was even, by the nitpicking standards of the era (see Tudor, Henry, legality of marriages), some question of the legitimacy of the little princes, whose father had wed their mother is extreme secret.  But then they disappeared.
 
Whodunit? Did Richard have them killed? Did they die of natural causes (youth mortality being what it was in those days) but Richard hushed it up, knowing no one would believe natural causes?  Ornry  did they die later at the hands of Henry VII, whose claim to the throne was less than theirs, and who would actually marry the princes' sister Elizabeth, to better secure his children's right to succeed.
 
And then there is that grand charecter created by Shakespeare, that villian of villians, one of the great parts of the English speaking theatre, one of the great roles that generation after generation of actors test themselves in.  Shakespeare's chief source was Sir Thomas More, who saintly scholar though he may have been, was also an ambitious Tudor courtier who was not above writing propaganda for the folks in power.  He painted Richard as blackly as possible, and then Shakespeare, writing in the reign of Elizabeth cranked it up even more, even acusing Richard  of murdering his own wife.  It is a magnificent piece of melodrama, and was one of Will's first big hits.  To this day it remains one of the most popular of his plays. Shakespeare's view of the last Plantagenet king has far superseded history's. To put it in modern parlance, Richard Plantagenet was Swift Boated by England's greatest playwright.
 
None of these matters will be settled by the discovery of Richard's remains (though it does add to our  understanding of both his possible disabilities, and his death on the battlefield.) But there is something moving about seeing one of history's alleged monsters reduced to a skeleton. And I am all in favor of those moments that cause us to stop and take a look at history, which is so often neglected both in and out of school. 500 years after his death, Richard III is being remembered again.  And that's great.
 
 
 
 


32 comments:

  1. This whole story is fascinating to me. I'm a huge British monarchy geek. To think this whole time Richard III was lying there, stabbed in the butt under a car park.

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    1. Thanks Lark, glad to see someone else finds all this fascinating as I do.

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  2. It really is an incredibly fascinating story. So much mystery!

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    1. And like most mysteries solving one aspect produces more questions.

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  3. I was an English major and remain an anglophile. The whole thing was so intriguing. Who would have thought, right?

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    1. Blast from the past...now I hear theres two cities disputing custody of the bones...

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  4. I agree that this is a completely fascinating story. Love stuff like this!

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    1. Amazing they were able to get DNA matches on 500 yrar old bonrs, also.

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  5. "I am all in favor of those moments that cause us to stop and take a look at history, which is so often neglected both in and out of school." As a former middle school history teacher, those words resonated w/ me. For some reason, though, a lot of people just aren't interested in history. I guess that's why we repeat it so often. . .

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    1. You are so right Jared, and it must be acknowledged that even as Shakespeare blackened Richard's name he also guaranteed his immortality. That's what happens when the greatest playwright of all time casts you as one of hist best villians.

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  6. Hi Meg. I was fascinated when I heard this news. I was thinking you might blog about it and I’m glad you did. :) Amazing how the skeleton was so well preserved. I hope Richard’s legacy will be revisited now. Could very well be he was not the villain as advertised. After all, look at who wrote the history of his time, men favorable to the Tudor era. Love the whodunit about his young nephews. Great post!

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    1. Thank s Lil, you know I couldn't pass this one up. Wish I'd been blogging when they found the Romanovs, now theres a murder mystery.

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  7. I'm intrigued to hear these other aspects of this story. Here I was, stuck on the fact that they found him under a grocery store parking lot!

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    1. Only in England could you find a king under a parking lor!

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  8. Thank you for that little glimpse of history.

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    1. Thakns for dropping by and reading it, Amanda.

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  9. Sadly I remember very little about him, but this is a fascinating story!

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    1. It is indeed. Thanks for dropping by TriGirl

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  10. History is so fascinating. It really is too bad that it's usually written in such a dry unappealing way. If it was written as a story more people would read about it.

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    1. You are right. One of the reasons Shakespeare's version has stuck all these years is because Will tells it so well.

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  11. You wrote a very interesting post here about a really fascinating headline. An intriguing read -- well done.

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    1. Thank you, Angela, I enjoyed telling it.

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  12. I am sending this to my partner Paul, he is such a history buff and will love this. Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Thanks for passing it along Bill, I hope Paul enjoys it.

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  13. Agh, Richard III!! I am a Shakespeare nerd and love the history of British monarchy probably more than a Southern Californian has any right to, so this was fun to read!

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    1. Thanks, Natalie, we Shakespeare nerds have to stick together . There are better plays of course, but not villians more fun to watch.

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  14. I love that time period! I'm sure it wouldn't have been so nice to live then, even as a princess, but so interesting!

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    1. I love the time period too, but I too would not have wanted to live then. Our family does medeval re-enacting for 2 weeks a year and thats long enough for me to without laptops or flush toilets.

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  15. I find the whole thing so fascinating. When I heard the news I thought of you immediately. I enjoyed reading more about it.

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    1. Thanks Linda. I knew as soon as I heard about this I would have to wriite about it. I have been fascinated by the play, the real king, and the contrast between the two for a long time.

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  16. Love British history and this post! Given that Richard was so nasty, I do think it's a bit funny that he ends up underneath a parking lot in Leicester.

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    1. Well there is some doubt about the historical Richards overall nastiness, though it does seem likely that the disappearance of the little princes took place on his watch, even if hewasnt directly responsible. Poor guy got some seriosly bad pr though.

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