Published on 27 Jan 2017
Lucy debunks the foundation myth of one of our favourite royal dynasties, the Tudors. According to the history books, after 30 years of bloody battles between the white-rosed Yorkists and the red-rosed Lancastrians, Henry Tudor rid us of civil war and the evil king Richard III. But Lucy reveals how the Tudors invented the story of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ after they came to power to justify their rule. She shows how Henry and his historians fabricated the scale of the conflict, forged Richard’s monstrous persona and even conjured up the image of competing roses. When our greatest storyteller William Shakespeare got in on the act and added his own spin, Tudor fiction was cemented as historical fact. Taking the story right up to date, with the discovery of Richard III’s bones in a Leicester car park, Lucy discovers how 15th-century fibs remain as compelling as they were over 500 years ago. As one colleague tells Lucy: ‘Never believe an historian!
February 8, 2017
March 22, 2015
In the Telegraph, Chris Skidmore looks at the end of the Battle of Bosworth in the light of the injuries suffered by King Richard:
Richard III’s body was discovered among the dead strewn across the battlefield, “despoiled to the skin” and “all besprung with mire and filth”. It was hard to believe that this naked and bloodied corpse had once belonged to a king. Still Richard III’s body had one final journey to make. After “many other insults were heaped upon it”, one chronicler reported how “not very humanely, a halter was thrown round the neck, and it was carried to Leicester”. With “nought being left about him, so much as would cover his privy member”, the last Plantagenet king was trussed up on the back of a horse, “as a hog or another vile beast” to be brought into the town “for all men to wonder upon, and there lastly irreverently buried”.
The new king — Henry Tudor, now crowned Henry VII — had good reason to put Richard’s body on display. Few could believe that Richard was dead, much less that a Welsh rebel who had landed on the tip of Wales two weeks earlier, leading an army of a few thousand men, mostly French mercenaries, had defeated a reigning king. Only hours earlier, Richard had led his army of 15,000 men, the largest army ever assembled “on one side” that England had ever witnessed, into battle against a rebel army barely one third its size. Bosworth, quite simply, was a battle that Richard should never have lost. Why did it go so badly wrong?
Treason, without a doubt:
With the collapse of his vanguard, Richard would have expected that his rear-guard, led by Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, to provide re-inforcements. Instead the earl did nothing. One chronicler was insistent that ‘in the place where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large company of reasonably good men, no engagement could be discerned, and no battle blows given or received”. Northumberland, Jean Molinet observed, should have “charged the French” but instead “did nothing except to flee, both he and his company, and to abandon his King Richard” since he had already agreed a secret pact with Henry Tudor.
Northumberland was a northern lord whose own power had diminished over the past decade as a result of Richard’s rise to power. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain from abandoning his king. Other reports from the battlefield suggest that Northumberland may have not only left Richard to his fate, but actively turned against him and “left his position and passed in front of the king’s vanguard”, at which point, “turning his back on Earl Henry, he began to fight fiercely against the king’s van, and so did all the others who had plighted their faith to Earl Henry”. If this were the case, it would explain why Richard had been heard “shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying ‘Treason! Treason! Treason!’”
Not just treason, but double treason:
The “first onslaught” of Richard’s attack saw some men surrounding Tudor been killed instantly, including Henry’s standard bearer, William Brandon, standing just feet away. It seemed that victory was now in Richard’s grasp. Not only had some of Henry’s men chose to flee, his standard had been ‘thrown to the ground’. Henry’s own men were ‘now wholly distrustful of victory’. Richard’s frenzied energy seemed to be turning the tables, as the king “began to fight with much vigour, putting heart into those that remained loyal, so that by his sole effort he upheld the battle for a long time”. It was at this point that Sir William Stanley, having sat out the battle on its fringes, sent orders for his forces, numbering perhaps 3,000 men, to crash into the side of Richard’s detachment, taking Tudor’s side. Richard stood no chance. He was swept off his horse and into a marsh, where he was killed, “pierced with numerous deadly wounds” one chronicler wrote, “while fighting, and not in the act of flight”.
Update: Maclean’s has a long article up on the Canadian connections to Richard III.
January 25, 2015
September 18, 2014
BBC News has the details:
Sarah Hainsworth, study author and professor of materials engineering, said: “Richard’s injuries represent a sustained attack or an attack by several assailants with weapons from the later medieval period.
“Wounds to the skull suggest he was not wearing a helmet, and the absence of defensive wounds on his arms and hands indicate he was still armoured at the time of his death.”
Guy Rutty, from the East Midlands pathology unit, said the two fatal injuries to the skull were likely to have been caused by a sword, a staff weapon such as halberd or bill, or the tip of an edged weapon.
He said: “Richard’s head injuries are consistent with some near-contemporary accounts of the battle, which suggest Richard abandoned his horse after it became stuck in a mire and was killed while fighting his enemies.”
June 16, 2014
BBC News has images of the tomb designed for the re-burial of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral:
The design of the tomb King Richard III will be reburied in at Leicester Cathedral, has been unveiled.
The wooden coffin will be made by Michael Ibsen, a descendent of Richard III, while the tomb will be made of Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire.
The total cost of reburial is £2.5m and work will start in the summer.
The Very Reverend David Monteith, Dean of Leicester, said the design “evokes memory and is deeply respectful”.
Judges ruled his remains, found under a Leicester car park in 2012, would be reinterred in Leicester, following a judicial review involving distant relatives of the king who wanted him buried in York.
A new visitor centre is set to open in July, which will tell the story of the king’s life, his brutal death in Battle in 1485 and rediscovery of his remains.
May 30, 2014
Last week, the High Court decided that the remains of King Richard III will be re-buried in Leicester, not in York. As you might expect, that leaves a lot of people unhappy.
When Richard III was hacked to death in rural Leicestershire in 1485, the royal House of York fell, bringing an end to the Plantagenet line that had lasted for 16 kings and 331 years. Many people see his death as the end of the English middle ages.
Despite this country’s ancient legal system, the courts do not often get to deal with real history, although they make many historic decisions. Yet the ruling of the High Court last Friday truly made history, as three judges decided that Richard III should be buried at the scene of his violent defeat, and not in York.
One side is always unhappy after a court hearing. And in this case those who sponsored York Minster may have more to be sore about than most.
The High Court acknowledged the case has “unprecedented” and “unique and exceptional features,” but nevertheless went on to give a rather bland ruling supporting Chris Grayling’s decision to leave the matter of reburial in the hands of the University of Leicester team running the excavation. In doing so, the court treated the hearing as a straightforward matter of public law, and affirmed that the government had been under no duty to consult widely before handing the responsibility over to the University of Leicester.
History and legacy mattered to medieval monarchs. Their actions, even the less obvious ones, were intended to make statements to reinforce their dynastic power. York Minster is an ancient foundation, home to the throne of the second most senior churchman in England. There has been an Archbishop of York since at least the seventh century. For Richard, a scion of the house of York, the Minster was an obvious place to fuse the sacred and secular, binding royal and church power together in one of England’s most venerable religious buildings. By contrast, Leicester Cathedral, although a lovely building with a long tradition of worship on the site, was a parish church until 1927 when it became the city’s cathedral. Although there was a church there in Richard’s day, it does not have the dynastic associations that Richard was clearly building with York.
And there’s always the religious aspect to consider (which would have been true regardless of the High Court’s decision):
And finally, the question of the liturgy is also set to run. As the old joke goes: Q. What is the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? A. You can reason with a terrorist. Leicester cathedral has diligently teamed up with an expert medieval musicologist, who has painstakingly uncovered and proposed the finer details of prayers and music appropriate to a 15th-century reburial. However, strong feelings which go beyond the musical arrangements have been expressed in many quarters, including in an online petition, and by Dr John Ashdown-Hill, the historian who led the excavations. These views reflect a conviction that Richard should have a Roman Catholic ceremony that respects the faith in which he grew up and died, and which is honest to what his wishes would have been. Leicester Cathedral will certainly have their hands full trying to reconcile Richard’s pre-Reformation religious beliefs with the Church of England ceremonies they are permitted to conduct.
February 14, 2014
John Lennard is a fan of William Shakespeare and it shows in this blog post:
The Imploding I
Shakespeare’s Richard III is the principal source of a figure still current in drama and cinema — the witty devil we love to hate. Fusing the role of the (aspiring) King with that of the Vice (the tempter in morality plays, who as a player of tricks and user of disguises was always more theatrically aware than his innocent victims), Shakespeare produced a role that from his first, mesmerising soliloquy, beginning the play, commands both amused and horrified attention. As witty as he is ruthless, and as witting about himself as about others, Richard dominates the stage whenever he is on it, and all his tricks come off marvellously — until they don’t.
I’ve just transcribed the Folio text of the play it calls The Tragedy of Richard the Third : with the Landing of Earle Richmond, and the Battell at Bosworth Field […] and I was struck by how potently verse and punctuation record Richard’s force and his final implosion. Here’s that famous opening soliloquy:
Enter Richard Duke of Gloster, solus.
Now is the Winter of our Discontent,
Made glorious Summer by this Son of Yorke :
And all the clouds that lowr’d vpon our house
In the deepe bosome of the Ocean buried.
Now are our browes bound with Victorious Wreathes,
Our bruised armes hung vp for Monuments ;
Our sterne Alarums chang’d to merry Meetings ;
Our dreadfull Marches, to delightfull Measures.
Grim-visag’d Warre, hath smooth’d his wrinkled Front :
And now, in stead of mounting Barbed Steeds,
To fright the Soules of fearfull Aduersaries,
He capers nimbly in a Ladies Chamber,
To the lasciuious pleasing of a Lute.
But I, that am not shap’d for sportiue trickes,
Nor made to court an amorous Looking-glasse :
I, that am Rudely stampt, and want loues Maiesty,
To strut before a wonton ambling Nymph :
I, that am curtail’d of this faire Proportion,
Cheated of Feature by dissembling Nature,
Deform’d, vn-finish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing World, scarse halfe made vp,
And that so lamely and vnfashionable,
That dogges barke at me, as I halt by them.
Why I (in this weake piping time of Peace)
Haue no delight to passe away the time,
Vnlesse to see my Shadow in the Sunne,
And descant on mine owne Deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot proue a Louer,
To entertaine these faire well spoken dayes,
I am determined to proue a Villaine,
And hate the idle pleasures of these dayes.
Plots haue I laide, Inductions dangerous,
By drunken Prophesies, Libels, and Dreames,
To set my Brother Clarence and the King
In deadly hate, the one against the other :
And if King Edward be as true and iust,
As I am Subtle, False, and Treacherous,
The day should Clarence closely be mew’d vp :
About a Prophesie, which sayes that G,
Of Edwards heyres the murtherer shall be.
Diue thoughts downe to my soule, here Clarence comes.
Everything here serves to present Richard’s complete control, and it’s an excellent example of the Ciceronian style and balance that characterises much of Shakespeare’s most fluent and speakable verse. For all its dynamism the language is exceptionally balanced and structured, bracing opposites within lines (“Our sterne Alarums chang’d to merry Meetings”, “That dogges barke at me, as I halt by them”) ; within couplets (“Now is the Winter of our Discontent, / Made glorious Summer by this Son of Yorke”, “Vnlesse to see my Shadow in the Sunne, / And descant on mine owne Deformity”) ; and within the quatrains that dominate the grammatical structure (“And now, in stead of mounting Barbed Steeds, / To fright the Soules of fearfull Aduersaries, / He capers nimbly in a Ladies Chamber, / To the lasciuious pleasing of a Lute”). The whole flows as trippingly as commandingly from the tongue, as generations of great actors have found, and the language is so strong and clear that it can bear very different styles of presentation. The two best Richards I’ve had the luck to see on stage, Anthony Sher and Ian McKellen, could not have tackled the role more differently — Sher was seriously hunched and scuttling on calipers that became weapons, feelers, probes at will ; McKellen was a restrained and clipped army officer whose only visible deformity was a hand kept always in his pocket — but both could draw equal strength and suasion from the magnificent verse Shakespeare provided.
February 6, 2013
I’m afraid the coverage of the discovery and identification of the remains of Richard III have done bad things to the newspapers. We’re starting to see articles like this posted:
King Richard III was ‘a brummie’
King Richard III would have spoken with a Birmingham accent, according to a language expert.
Dr Philip Shaw, from the University of Leicester’s School of English, used two letters penned by the last king of the Plantagenet line more than 500 years ago to try to piece together what the monarch would have sounded like.
He studied the king’s use of grammar and spelling in postscripts on the letters.
The university has now released a recording of Dr Shaw mimicking King Richard reading extracts from those letters.
Despite being the patriarch of the House of York, the king’s accent “could probably associate more or less with the West Midlands” than from Yorkshire or the North of England, said Dr Shaw.
Wow. This must have been a long, painstaking effort to pin down the linguistic “tics” that help indicate a person’s natural speaking habits. What were the key elements that indicated Good King Richard was a “Brummie”?
“… there is also at least one spelling he employs that may suggest a West Midlands accent.”
That’s it? One spelling variation that “suggests” he would pronounce that one word in a similar manner to the modern Birmingham style? Gah!
February 5, 2013
A facial reconstruction based on the skull of Richard III:
A facial reconstruction based on the skull of Richard III has revealed how the English king may have looked.
The king’s skeleton was found under a car park in Leicester during an archaeological dig.
The reconstructed face has a slightly arched nose and prominent chin, similar to features shown in portraits of Richard III painted after his death.
Historian and author John Ashdown-Hill said seeing it was “almost like being face to face with a real person”.
The development comes after archaeologists from the University of Leicester confirmed the skeleton found last year was the 15th Century king’s, with DNA from the bones having matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.
I was unable to find an image of the reconstruction that is okay to use, but you can see various pictures on Google Image Search.
February 4, 2013
BBC News rounds up the details:
A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III.
Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family.
Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley, from the University of Leicester, told a press conference to applause: “Beyond reasonable doubt it’s Richard.”
Richard, killed in battle in 1485, will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.
Mr Buckley said the bones had been subjected to “rigorous academic study” and had been carbon dated to a period from 1455-1540.
Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist from the university’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, revealed the bones were of a man in his late 20s or early 30s. Richard was 32 when he died.
His skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal.
One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull, a depth of more than 10cms (4ins).
Dr Appleby said: “Both of these injuries would have caused an almost instant loss of consciousness and death would have followed quickly afterwards.
“In the case of the larger wound, if the blade had penetrated 7cm into the brain, which we cannot determine from the bones, death would have been instantaneous.”
Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head.
Update: New Scientist still has concerns that the trail of evidence is not strong enough to constitute proof of identity:
Mitochondrial DNA is passed down the maternal line and has 16,000 base pairs in total. Typically, you might expect to get 50 to 150 fragments from a 500-year-old skeleton, says Ian Barnes at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was not involved in the research. “You’d want to get sequences from lots of those fragments,” he says. “There’s a possibility of mitochondrial mutations arising in the line from Richard III.”
“It’s intriguing to be sure,” says Mark Thomas at University College London. It is right that they used mitochondrial DNA based on the maternal line, he says, since genealogical evidence for the paternal lineage cannot be trusted.
But mitochondrial DNA is not especially good for pinpointing identity. “I could have the same mitochondrial DNA as Richard III and not be related to him,” says Thomas.
The researchers used the two living descendents to “triangulate” the DNA results. The evidence will rest on whether Ibsen and his cousin have sufficiently rare mtDNA to make it unlikely that they both match the dead king by chance.
January 20, 2013
Elizabeth linked to this petition which might be of interest to Ricardians:
Joe Ann Ricca, Founder and Chief Executive of The Richard III Foundation, Inc., said: “Richard obviously had no choice after he was killed as to where his remains were taken, but today we have the opportunity to right the many wrongs that have been done to this unjustly maligned king, by correcting the distorted picture that has been painted of Richard over the centuries, and by bringing his remains home to Yorkshire, and to York Minster as he wanted.”
Richard, who was the last Plantagenet king, and the last English monarch to die in battle, had strong connections with the City of York and the County of Yorkshire. He spent much of his youth at Middleham Castle and for 12 years he ruled the North of England on behalf of his elder brother, King Edward IV, earning a widespread reputation for fair-mindedness and justice. After becoming king, he visited York several times and was showered with gifts each time. His son, Edward, was crowned Prince of Wales whilst in York.
Although entitled to be buried at Westminster Abbey alongside other kings and queens of England, Richard III announced his intention to be buried at York, and in 1483 set in motion plans for a new chantry chapel at York Minster. Indeed, so strongly was Richard linked to York that the City authorities greeted the news of his death at the Battle of Bosworth with these words: “King Richard, late mercifully reigning over us, was, through great treason, piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.”
November 29, 2012
In History Today, Paul Lay talks about the power of well-written historical fiction to raise interest in real history:
The case of Richard III was long ago examined in a historical novel, which has come to recent public prominence due to its championing by the High Tory journalist Peter Hitchens and the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, an incongruous pairing if ever there was one. The subject of their mutual admiration is Josephine Tey’s 1951 thriller, her last, The Daughter of Time. It takes its title from Francis Bacon’s adage — ‘Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority’ — and features Tey’s fictional detective, Inspector Alan Grant. At the start of the novel he has broken his leg and is recuperating in hospital. There he is handed a reproduction of a contemporary portrayal of Richard III. Grant fancies himself as a great judge of character and is convinced that the king he sees before him is a kindly and wise character, the very opposite of the Shakespearean monster. With his leg on the mend, Grant heads off to the British Museum to research the truth about the king’s life.
Grant’s conclusion makes The Daughter of Time a firm favourite with members of the Richard III Society, apostles of the last Plantagenet, for the inspector convinces himself that Richard III is indeed a victim of the Tudor propaganda machine. We can believe that or not, but what makes The Daughter of Time such a compelling read is not its rather flimsy conclusion but its extraordinary depiction of process, for few books have so vividly brought to life the historian’s quest, the desire to reveal exactly what happened in the past and the methods used to discover that truth. That’s why historians love it. Beard found it an inspiring work: it ‘partly made me a historian’, she claims; while Hitchens praises Tey’s ‘clarity of mind’; her ‘loathing of fakes and propaganda are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land’.
November 26, 2012
More on the project to determine if the remains discovered in Leicester are those of Richard III:
Whether the bones prove to be Richard’s or not, the discovery in September has already set academic journals, websites, university lecture circuits and the mainstream media abuzz across Britain, sparking intense and occasionally impolite exchanges. On the floor of the House of Commons, members of Parliament are eloquently clashing, with representatives from York — for whom Richard was the last hope against rival Lancastrians in the War of the Roses — demanding the restoration of his tarnished image. One organization of die-hard Richard III supporters (there are at least two) is running a national ad campaign to clear the king’s name.
There are even calls for a state funeral, giving the medieval king a send-off steeped in the pomp and circumstance of contemporary Britain.
“I suppose we won’t dash off to the Folger Library in Washington and destroy the First Folio, but we must rewrite the history distorted by that, ahem, writer from Stratford,” Hugh Bayley, a member of Parliament from York, said with tongue only partly planted in cheek. “The fact that a Mr. Shakespeare decided to write some play about a hunchback shouldn’t blacken the name of a fine, upstanding defender of country.”
Yet if the remains are indeed those of the long-lost sovereign — something archaeologists call extremely likely — it also raises a conundrum: Where to bury one of England’s most demonized characters?
Under Church of England protocol, the bones, should they prove to be Richard’s, appear destined to end up in the cathedral at Leicester, the city where the remains were found. But many insist they should instead go to the Anglican cathedral in York, the city where history suggests that he wanted to rest. Still others question whether burial should be in an Anglican cathedral at all, as he died a Roman Catholic, reigning by the grace of God and the pope.
September 20, 2012
At the History Today blog, Linda Porter points out that some of the breathless claims about the historical significance of the Leicester archaeological dig are rather overblown:
Major finds don’t come along very often and this would certainly be one of the most significant in the last hundred years. But the huge claims being made for it are not the sort that sit well with most historians. Assertions that, if DNA tests prove positive, this discovery ‘has the potential to rewrite history’ and is of ‘global importance’ make me sigh.
Historians have long known that the Tudor narratives on Richard III are propaganda. Shakespeare’s compelling villain may still resonate with the man on the street but has nothing to do with a measured analysis of the past and anyone with even a general interest in the late fifteenth century will be aware of this. And ‘global significance’? Cross the Channel and I’d be surprised if you found anyone outside the academic world who knew about Richard III and the saga of the Princes in the Tower. Those involved in the project, which appears to have been rigorously conducted from the archaeological perspective, clearly want headlines. As someone who has worked in public relations herself I congratulate them on a successful communications campaign — it has to be acknowledged that the Richard III Society is very good at this kind of thing — but wearing my historian’s hat extravagant claims make me uncomfortable.
September 15, 2012
In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges calls for giving Richard III “a last, glorious summer”:
It’s a brilliant idea. Seriously. Think of where Richard stands. At the centre of our history, our art, our education, our national identity. What a staggering opportunity this represents.
Let’s give him a full, no-holds-barred state funeral. Everyone’s been banging on about preserving the Olympic spirit; well here — DNA tests permitting — is our chance. This is a once in a generation opportunity. In fact, it’s a once in about 20 generations opportunity. Let’s bring our history alive.
Just imagine the crowds that would gather for the chance of watching a 21st century ceremonial to a Plantagenet king. And not just an English king, but thanks to Shakespeare, a global monarch.
Picture the moment. A silent Mall. A slow drum beat. An honor guard, heads bowed in tribute to their leader who fell 500 years before. Richard, making his last journey, laid upon a ceremonial gun carriage, draped in the flag of the kingdom he died fighting for. And ahead of him walks a riderless horse. The horse that in his last moments, he would have swapped that kingdom for.
Bloody hell, I’d miss an episode of Strictly for that. And I bet a few million others would as well.
Okay, there’s the slightly unfortunate business of the Princes and the Tower. But we’ve all made the odd mistake. Plus, if you read Josephine Tay’s the Daughter of Time, it was a fit up anyway.
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the past couple of months it’s that — to borrow a phrase from another high profile if much maligned senior statesman — we are at our best when at our boldest. Or more accurately, when we say “damn it, let’s do it”.
Now is one of those moments. Damn it. Let’s give Richard III one last, glorious summer.