Andrew Simpson asks: So what is it about Richard III?

My best friend and published historian, Andrew Simpson, has written an excellent post on Richard III, which I’d like to share with you here. I would also like to recommend that you visit his great blog which I guarantee you’ll find really interesting, and full of surprises!

Here is his blog:

http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/

… and here is his post about Richard III:

http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/so-what-is-it-about-richard-iii.html?spref=fb

Now I do have to confess that like large chunks of the media, my friends, and the general public I have been drawn to the Richard iii story, not least because of all the medieval kings he is the one that has fascinated me over the years.

This comes from that early realisation that here is the conventional story of a man which sits a little apart from might what have been the truth. As a child I regularly visited the room where in the tower of London the young princes were allegedly murdered and listened to the dark tales of their deaths on the orders of their wicked uncle. It was an image of a monster fully completed by Shakespeare’s vision of that deform’d, unfinish’d, man sent before his time into this breathing world who perhaps because of his appearance and certainly in this weak piping time of peace, chose  the path of  villainy.*

But then very early on I picked up on the alternative interpretation which sought to rescue Richard from the very successful image painted by Tudor spin doctors attempting to justify a brutal seizure of power by someone with even less claim to the throne.  For me the best and most entertaining statement of Richard’s innocence is that by the detective writer Josephine Tey whose book the daughter of time set out to challenge the accepted view of Richard as the villain.

Now I don’t usually subscribe to the conspiracy theory of history, but Ms Tey’s examination of the evidence against him and her reasons for pointing the finger at Henry vii for the murder of the princes is quite convincing.

Image result for "princes in the tower"

But the events are a long time ago, so I do ponder on why all the interest. I suppose on one level it is just an intriguing piece of archaeology which has the added bonus that it is a well-known figure from the past, and given modern techniques of facial reconstruction provides us with perhaps the best image of the man. And it feeds that human interest, which allows all of us to crawl over the life and almost touch someone long dead.  I guess the crowds who first stared at the body of the boy king Tutankhamun felt the same.

I know I never tired of telling the story to my students. And always they responded with the same animated interest at the account of the opening of tomb, the discovery of the bright flowers on the coffin and the knowledge that the last people to breathe that air had been the priests who had attended the dead king. But I also get the same excitement at handling the objects of the past, as well as reading the letters of roman soldiers stationed on Hadrian’s Wall and the often obscene graffiti left with political slogans on the walls of Pompeii.

It is all good history and allows us an insight into the lives of people in the past where yes it was a different place and where they often did things differently. And so back to the king in the car park and the continuing debate on who really was the villain along with that growing debate about whether to bury him in Leicester or York.

Richard iii, act 1 scene 1

Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them-
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

Josephine Tey  The Daughter of Time, 1951

 

 

4 Comments

  1. jena

    I worked several years in an archaeology lab in grad school. When I saw that skeleton’s hugely curved spine I got so excited! yes, we’ve projected a personality onto him, mostly thanks to Shakespeare, but to see the remains of the man is something else entirely. I also liked seeing the forensic reproduction of his looks.

    And it’s so much fun to encounter the phrase “lost Plantagenet” everywhere (even if people aren’t sure about its proper pronunciation haha) 🙂 Somewhere the ghosts of House Plantagenet are finally going to be appeased.

    Like

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