7. Richard III: Confirmed

Wednesday 6 February 2013

What an exciting, significant week this has been! As we all know, the skeleton found underneath the car park in Leicester has been identified as the remains of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England. The wonderful thing that this discovery has brought (other than being able to provide the burial for the only King without a tomb - though I should add, it should not be in Leicester Cathedral) has been that people are not just accepting Tudor propaganda fact anymore.

I'm not saying that Richard was a saint. I'm not trying to justify anything he may, or may not have done. I try to view Richard in the light of his time. It's wrong to contextualize his actions with opinions from our day and age because we could never understand how brutal and bloody it really was to be a 15th Century King. I also think it's unfair when there is no evidence that would stand up in a court of law today. It's all circumstantial - but I will touch on this later.

We have to remember that Richard was a child of war. His father, Richard of York and older brother Edmund was slain at the Battle of Wakefield when he was only eight years old. He watched his elder brother, later Edward IV fight to claim his right to the throne aided by Warwick, known as 'The Kingmaker'. Under Warwick's tutelage as his ward he learnt the ways of a knight and how to be a successful soldier. From the age of eleven Edward entrusted his younger brother to provide military support - so much so that he was a military commander in his own right by the age of seventeen.

He witnessed his own brother's crown threatened by the very man who had helped put him on the throne. He watched his brother George, Duke of Clarence turncoat multiple times before he was quietly silenced, though I leave it to you to decided whether he really was drowned in a barrel of his favourite Malmsey wine.

He understood that you had to fight and then defend your right to the throne. Under Edward he was the most powerful, and loyal noble in the land, and all but the 'King of the North'.  I've gone off on a rant which I did not intend to so will redirect to my original line of though... essentially it's been proven that his portraits were tampered with after his death or are copies where deformities were added or created. The image we have of Richard in the modern day ultimately does not reflect his actions and life before the hotly argued issue of 'The Princes in the Tower' (again, more on this later.)

At first I thought Philippa Langley was two sheets to the wind mad, but it dawned on me that although it was slightly uncomfortable to watch, this was the search for a King whom she had built up in her mind. Indeed, I faced the same feeling of disappointment when they revealed the skeleton fully laid out and reconstructed. I feel that she was edited in an unfair light ultimately. Though, I was happy that they validated that his scoliosis would only have been noticeable when he was naked. Clothed you wouldn't know, and that he wasn't quite the Quasimodo hunchback painted after his death.

It's a hard thing to face cold hard fact when it's lying there in front of you. Impossible to deny. But my comfort is that they would not just say that he was a brave, and incredibly able soldier after all the accusations he has been painted with since he claimed the throne as his own.

The archeology used, and they way it was explained throughout the programme was fascinating, although I wished they had focused more on how they actually did it step by step. I could have done with a lot less of the idiot with stupid hair from The Mighty Boosh. I found him irritating, and hate the fact that they even tried to include a comedic element in the documentary. I wanted more educational information and I saw on Twitter during the screening that many others felt this way. It's as though Channel 4 didn't want this to be a human interest piece, they wanted to go for entertainment factor. I would have preferred someone like Tony Robinson presenting it, or an actual historian of the era.

I found it difficult to hear the blow by blow account of his injuries, even after death. It sounds so silly to get emotional over the fate of a skeleton. But I agree with Langley, for many Ricardian's watching the documentary that wasn't just a skeleton lying there. It was once a man. They are the remains of a king many have deep affection for, despite his black reputation. I certainly got goosebumps when they uncovered the skeleton in his grave. The fact that his body was defaced after he was dead, as a act of humiliation against him was horrid. In the grave it appeared that he had just been dumped there - no coffin or shroud to protect the remains.

The facial reconstruction absolutely blew me away, and I'm certain when my fella glanced at me moments after the revealed his face it was to check what reaction I was having. I don't know if he expected explosive anger or tears. I mean this was the moment they gave back the face of man who we have no reliable images to go by. It was fantastic, and the skill and time that went into recreating Richard's face should be applauded. I can't get over how young the face appeared, but then 32 isn't exactly old is it? This is the fact of a king who formed 'The Court of Requests' for the poor who could not afford legal representation, introduced the bail system to protect the accused, banned restrictions previously imposed on the printing and sale of books and had the Laws and Statutes translated into English. He is regarded as having been a promoter of legal fairness - of the idea of being innocent until proven otherwise.

I know they have announced that Richard will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, but hearing that York has weighed in on this hotly disputed decision gives me hope. I still maintain that Richard was a Yorkist King, and therefore if he will not be buried in Westminster Abbey where his wife lies he should be buried where his power base was located. I hope that this is something that is re-evaluated. I don't care that he has been lying there for the past 500 years - so what? He was lying there undiscovered! Bury him somewhere he was cherished and respected. Not somewhere he was dumped by Henry Tudor to be buried and forgotten.

Now, I move on to my point about the 'Princes in the Tower'. We're all aware of the bones that were found at the bottom of a staircase in 1674. And these bones were later examined and claimed to be the bones of children matching the ages of the missing princes. However, what about the two unidentified coffins found in the vault adjoining Edward IV's in St George's Chapel? Although at first thought to be the coffin's of two of Edward's children, George and Mary who died young, their coffins were later found in a different vault in a different part of the Chapel clearly marked 'George Plantagenet' and 'Mary Plantagenet'.

So my question is who do those two coffin's belong to? Surely now would be the time to test the said bones found in The Tower and identify once for all if they are Edward V and his brother Richard? Why are requests repeatedly denied? Until the remains are identified by DNA testing I will never accept that they are the remains of the two princes. You cannot categorically say that Richard was definitely responsible when there is no physical DNA evidence. I do not dispute that they were most likely murdered. And most likely on Richard's orders. But I don't see how this separates him from the other bloody acts of medieval kings before him. It's just the way it was.

Also, if we take into account, and play with the idea presented by Tony Robinson in 'Fact or Fiction: Richard III', that Edward IV was actually the bastard of an archer (which a recently found entry in the Cathedral register in Rouen supposedly confirms due to the fact that at the time of Edward's conception his father was actually away on a campaign, and all signs point to Edward being born at full term and that his christening was a hushed, hidden affair compared to that of his brother Edmund) and Richard was aware of this, he was actually fighting for his rightful claim to the throne. In order to do this he would have to remove all traces of the corrupted line - Edward's heirs. It's an undisputed fact that the Woodvilles/Wydvilles wielded power and influence and were disliked for this, and indeed would have been a direct threat to Richard's power after his brother's death. If the Princes had no Plantagenet blood running through their veins then they weren't deserving of the throne, which means any descendants afterwards were not the rightful heirs. Whether there is any truth this will always be contested, and styled as an argument for Revisionists.

It's a fascinating mystery, but something I fear will always remain due to the fact that countless requests to examine either the coffins, or the bones found in The Tower have been repeatedly blocked by the Queen, who has final say on any exhumations of Royal tombs.

Sort it out Liz!

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