Sunday, November 10, 2013

King Richard III: Villain or Hero? Brits Still Arguing 528 Years Later

King Richard III,
As He Looks Today
I saw a fascinating account of King Richard III yesterday on the Smithsonian Channel.  Earlier this year British archaeologists deduced the location of Richard's grave and found his skeletal remains.  DNA and other evidence confirmed the skeleton's identity as that of King Richard III, killed in battle at Bosworth Field near Leicester, England on August 22, 1485.  The battle was the culmination of the "War of the Roses," an internecine fight among Englishmen as to who was entitled to the throne of England.  In short, it was a civil war.

King Richard III has long been painted as a villain by English authors and tradition.  Shakespeare wrote a play, "Richard III," where Richard III is depicted as an evil, ruthless murderer, with hunchback and withered arm.  "Now is the winter of our discontent," says the Shakespearean Richard, the line most famous from that play.  But was this depiction accurate?  British citizens disagree.  Supporters of Richard III have stated "history is written by the winners" (and how we know that to be true), with unsavory facts about Richard greatly exaggerated or fabricated.  These supporters point out that the negative imagery of King Richard was politically motivated, what we call "self-legitimizing myths," as a means of justifying the winners' war and clothing it in robes of righteousness.  Again, we Confederate descendants are all-too familiar with such tactics.  In order for the Yankees to be proven right, our ancestors must be proven wrong, unrighteous, and evil.

Now for some facts.

King Edward IV, Richard's brother, died in April 1483, and Edward V (Richard's nephew) was in line for the throne to succeed his father.  Here's where the plot thickens.

King Richard III, Facial Reconstruction From the Skull
Richard III was appointed "Lord Protector" of his nephews, both sons of Edward IV.  They were Edward V and his brother, also named Richard.  Richard III ensconced both nephews in the Tower of London, not as prisoners, but as wards.  Before Edward V could be crowned king, however, his mother's marriage to Edward IV was somehow declared invalid (sounds like dirty politics to me), making Edward V ineligible for the throne.  Instead, Richard III ascended the throne in 1483, after which the two nephews were never seen again.  Although it has never been proved that Richard III did them in, many believe that this is what happened.  Still, it should be noted, Richard III had a legitimate claim to the throne through both his parents.

Loyalists to Edward IV challenged Richard III's right to the throne, but were defeated in battle.  A second challenge was mounted by Henry Tudor, who raised an army and attacked Richard III.  I do not know why or if Tudor was entitled to the throne, but he won it nevertheless by brute force, defeating the forces of Richard III at Bosworth Field where King Richard III died courageously in battle.  Overwhelmed by a crowd of warriors attacking him on all sides, Richard was killed by an ax blow to the back of his head.

Richard's body was taken to Leicester where it was hastily buried under the altar of Grey Friars Church there.  Five centuries passed and the the church was replaced by a modern parking lot, where the remains were located by ground penetrating radar on February 4, 2013.   Radio carbon dating of the remains, as well as DNA comparison to known lineal descendants, confirmed that the remains were those of Richard III.  Plus, the skeleton had severe curvature of the spine (scoliosis), which Richard III was known to possess. Further, the skull bore battle marks that fit the eye-witness descriptions of his demise. A forensic reconstruction of King Richard's face was made (see above), and it greatly resembles paintings made of Richard in the years shortly after his death.

Now the Second War of the Roses has commenced, with Brits arguing as to where the remains will be reinterred, in Leicester Cathedral or in York Minster.  A court is to decide the dispute later this month.

Outsiders often accuse American Southerners of "refighting the civil war," which ended 148 years ago.  However, we are not the only ones who continue to argue over who did what to whom and why.  The British have been refighting the War of the Roses for 528 years.  As for King Richard III, I favor giving him the benefit of the doubt.  He was a great Englishman and warrior for his people and his cause.

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