As someone who has always been in love with History, I was fascinated by the archaeological discovery, and subsequent confirmation of the remains of Richard III. It probably consumed far more of my day than it should have, as I began to ponder the impact of the announcement and to learn about the details of his death.
Richard III has long been a historical sphinx, with questions surrounding his rise to power and his fall in battle to Henry Tudor on 22 August 1485 at the Redemore Plain as it was once called. While the details of these controversies and the subsequent results of the death of Richard III are far more complex than I can explain in this diary, please follow me below the Kos royal seal so that we may explore some of these things together.
So why should we care about Richard III? How does a dead king's remains from more than 525 years ago affect me?
First, it is an amazingly interesting history on its own. The story of Richard III is one of political cunning, usurpation, and murder--lots of murder.
Richard ascended the throne shortly after the death of his brother Edward IV, who passed away in 1483 unexpectedly. The circumstances of Edward's death are difficult to find exactly, but it is thought that he died of pneumonia. Edward rewarded his brother Richard for his loyalty by naming him Protector of his son, also named Edward, who would soon become Edward V of England.
However, the rise of such a young King can bring with it many who would seek to use his age to their advantage, and one of those who Richard feared the most was the boy's mother Elizabeth Woodville. The following article from the Richard III Society, reveal some of Richards fears about the Queen's motives:
The initial period following Edward's death suggests that Queen Elizabeth and her supporters were aiming to crown Edward V before Richard could assume the role of Protector. The fact that no official word came to Richard from the Queen or the Council (then effectively in her control) informing him of Edward's death and his legal right to be Protector, must have raised some suspicion in Richard's mind about the Queen's motives.However Richard's behaviour once he had secured the person of Edward V and had arrived in London was exemplary .A date was set for the coronation of Edward V and writs and warrants were issued in the King's name. Summonses were sent for a parliament to meet after the coronation. Richard had the support of the Council and there is no reason to suspect at this stage that anything other than the coronation and reign of Edward V would take place.
The atmosphere changed around 10 June when Richard wrote to the City of York urgently requesting reinforcements to assist him against the Queen's ' … blode adherentts and affinitie.' This is a crucial point in the series of events leading to Richard taking the crown.
The idea that Richard's following actions were due to his fear for the Queen's intentions are not solely the ideas of the Richard III society, this was further illustrated on Prof. Sommerville's website which states:
At the time of his father's death, however, Edward V was in the control of his mother Elizabeth Woodville and her relatives. Richard feared that once Edward was crowned, the Woodvilles would dominate power, so he seized Edward V. He also arrested Elizabeth's brother, Anthony, Earl Rivers, and Sir Richard Grey, her son by her first marriage; both were executed in June 1483.
Elizabeth took sanctuary with Richard, Duke of York (Edward V's younger brother) in Westminster Abbey, but he was soon extracted and joined his brother in the Tower.
This brings us to the Princes in the Tower controversy. Edward V and his brother Richard were certainly a problem for Richard, Duke of Gloucester and any claim he made to the throne. This problem was solved when Titulus Regius was declared, which questioned the validity of his brother's marriage to Elizabeth, and the legitimacy of her son Edward and thus his claim to the throne.
And here also we considre how that the said pretenced marriage was made privately and secretly, with edition of banns, in a private chamber, a profane place, and not openly in the face of the church, aftre the laws of Godd’s churche, but contrarie thereunto, and the laudable custome of the Churche of England. And how also, that at the tyme of the contract of the same pretensed marriage, and bifore and longe tyme after, the saide King Edw was and stood marryed and troth plyght to oone Dame Elianor Butteler, doughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the said King Edward had made a precontracte of matronie, long tyme bifore he made the said pretensed mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey in manner and fourme aforesaid. Which premises being true, as in veray trouth they been true, it appeareth and followeth evidently, that the said King Edward duryng his lyfe and the said Elizabeth lived together sinfully and dampnably in adultery, against the lawe of God and his church; and therefore noe marvaile that the souverain lord and head of this londe, being of such ungodly disposicion, and provokyng the ire and indignation of oure Lorde God, such haynous mischiefs and inconvenients as is above remember, were used and committed in the reame amongst the subjects. Also it appeareth evidently and followeth that all th’issue and children of the said king been bastards, and unable to inherite or to clayme anything by inheritance, by the lawe and custome of England.So, Richard III ascended the throne, and imprisoned Edward and his brother Richard in the Tower of London. They were never seen again. Professor Sommerville states:
The two princes in the Tower were never seen publicly again. Two skeletons discovered in the Tower in 1674, and examined in 1933, may have been those of Edward V and Richard, but it is not certain.We will revisit the Princes in the tower controversy, after we discuss the death of Richard III and the subsequent rise of Henry VII.
Henry the VII challenged and eventually killed Richard III at Bosworth--two short years into Richard's reign. However, what was Henry's claim to the throne?
Henry Tudor had established his royal bloodlines through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who had established herself a descendent of Edward III.
This descent from King Edward was through his third son, John of Gaunt. John's third wife, Katherine Swynford had borne him several children as his mistress before he married her. The children born before the marriage were later legitmized, but barred from the succession. Margaret Beaufort was descended from one of the children born before the marriage of John and Katherine.While, this royal heritage seems questionable at best, and this bloodline would put Henry far from the next person in line for the throne, Henry claimed the crown of England through right of conquest, having slain Richard in battle. An account of this event was recorded into the history books stating:
The battle was over. On a stretch of high ground in the midland heart of the kingdom twenty thousand men had met in fierce, clumsy combat, and the day had ended in the decisive defeat of the stonger army. Its leader, the King, had been killed fighting heroically, and men had seen his naked corpse slung across his horse's back and borne away to an obscure grave. His captains were dead, captured, or in flight, his troops broken and demoralized. But in the victor's army all was rejoicing. In following the claimant to the throne his supporters had chosen the winning side, and when they saw the golden circlet which had fallen from the King's head placed upon their leader's, their lingering doubts fled before the conviction that God had blessed his cause, and they hailed him joyously as their sovereign.After the establishment of the Tudor king, there were many rumors and accusation established about Richard III and the legitimacy of his own claim to the throne, particularly with regard to the aforementioned Princes in the Tower. It is likely we may never know what happened to the princes, but several scenarios likely exist. Professor Sommerville provides us with a few possibilities:
The day was 22 August 1485; the battlefield was to be named after the small neighboring town of Market Bosworth; the fallen King was the third and ablest of English monarchs who bore the name Richard; and the man whom the battle made a king was to be the seventh and perhaps the greatest of those who bore the name Henry.
S.T. Bindoff Tudor England PROLOGUE: 1485
It is also just possible that the children survived Richard III's reign and were murdered by Henry VII. However, the most probable explanation of their disappearance is that Richard III ordered their murder.However, the Richard III society refutes that last statement in an interview with CNN.
Richard III was no saint but neither was he a criminal. All but one of the so-called crimes laid at his door can be refuted by the facts. The one that cannot is the disappearance of his nephews, the "Princes in the Tower" and the answer to that question is simply that no-one knows what happened to them. All that follows is conjecture - they just disappeared. Richard had no need to kill them; they had been declared bastards. Henry VII needed them out of the way, but he got so scared whenever a pretender appeared that it is likely that he knew they were alive at the time Richard died at Bosworth. Did they die in 1483 or 1485 or were they spirited out of the country to their aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy? We will probably never know.Some interesting information has come out in the excavation and examination of the remains of the slain Plantagenet. The BBC article this morning on the announcement provides the following details:
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 was caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull - a depth of more than 10cm (4ins).
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."I found the evidence of humiliation injuries most interesting. The treatment of the remains is certainly not treatment befitting a fallen king, previously described as having fought "heroically" until the end. I can't pretend t interpret the meaning of those wounds, but the winning army certain had quite a bit of hatred for the monarch to treat him as such. After the battle, Henry had the body of Richard III taken to the Greyfriars and quickly buried, in a grave hardly befitting a monarch.
Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. There was also evidence of "humiliation" injuries, including a pelvic wound likely to have been caused by an upward thrust of a weapon, through the buttock.
So, I guess I haven't quite gotten to the point of this diary. Why again should we care about the death of a king 500 years ago? Beyond the intriguing history of the story, the answer is this: The death of Richard III and the rise of Henry VII was a world altering event that had a profound impact. Let's look at what changes Tudor England brought us, and what event might not have taken place had Richard instead killed Henry at Bosworth:
A Catholic England?
The rise of the Tudors brought the world the reign of Henry VIII and with it his amazingly complex personal life and the repercussions of such. One such repercussion is the split with the Catholic church which shifted England from a Catholic nation, to a protestant one, and the creation of the Anglican church.
"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
While, it is possible that Shakespeare would have been successful regardless of who was the reigning monarch, it certainly affected the content of his plays. Shakespeare's Richard III, does little to help the reputation of the Plantagenet. It was the Tudor Queen Elizabeth that ruled England in the time of Shakespeare, and beyond the portayal of Richard III in his play, the fact that it was a Tudor on throne helped shape the content of his works, for all of us to enjoy. Let's look at his words about the Queen in his play Henry VIII, to illustrate her effect on his writing:
"Let me speak, sir,America, and the death of Richard III
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they'll find 'em truth.
This royal infant — heaven still move about her —
Though in her cradle, yet now promises
Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be -
But few now living can behold that goodness —
A pattern to all princes living with her,
And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
With all the virtues that attend the good,
Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be lov'd and fear'd; her own shall bless her:
In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour.
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
Nor shall this peace sleep wnth her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new-create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself; "
"She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess ; many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it.
Would I had known no more! but she must die, —
She must, the saints must have her, — yet a virgin;
A most unspotted lily shall she pass
To the ground, and all the world shall mourn her.
King Henry. O lord archbishop,
Thou hast made me now a man! never before
This happy child did I get anything;
This oracle of comfort has so pleas'd me.
That when I am in heaven I shall desire
To see what this child does, and praise my Maker."
The impact of the last Plantagenet, and the rise of the Tudors had a profound affect on the shaping of America. The death of Richard III gave way to the Tudor, Stuart and Hanover monarchs, all of whom would not have been in line for succession had Richard been triumphant in Bosworth. Let's just look at states and how they were named:
Maryland's name honors Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), wife of Charles I (1600-1649), King of Great Britain and Ireland, who signed the 1632 charter establishing the Maryland colony.Virginia
When on May 14, 1607 the Susan B. Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery landed at Jamestown the colonists sent by the Virginia Company of London, years of futile effort to achieve British colonization in America were terminated in the establishment of a permanent settlement in the New World. All North America not Spanish or French was then called Virginia, in honor of the Virgin Queen.Georgia
In 1732, George II granted the lands between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers to General James Oglethorpe and a group of other trustees; in gratitude, the trustees named the colony after the king.Political Legacy
Perhaps most importantly, the reason we should care about Richard III, is that beyond the significance of his death, and the changes it brought, his short reign as king brought with it some bold ideas, many of which affect our lives daily. I will finish by quoting the Richard III Society regarding the accomplishments of the king.
As king, Richard attempted to provide justice for all, including the poor and the vulnerable and this was demonstrated in his parliament. Richard understood the value of peace and trade, and he encouraged foreign trade and immigration of skilled craftsmen. He had an open mind with regard to invention and innovation and he encouraged the fledgling printing industry. He was a talented administrator and following his elevation to the crown established the Council of the North to govern his former palatinate, an organisation that was so successful it was retained by the Tudors and survived until the mid-seventeenth-century.
As duke, Richard had a reputation for being good and fair in his dealings but his reign as king was too short for his potential to be fully realised. However, it can perhaps be glimpsed in his laws and achievements. Many of our present-day ideals such as the Presumption of Innocence, blind justice, and Clear Title, can be traced back to King Richard.
9:29 PM PT: I noticed one of my sources was the wrong one. Particularly the Princes in the Tower rebuttal, so I changed it to the correct source from an article on CNN today. I apologize, it is late!
Tue Feb 05, 2013 at 8:56 AM PT: A few links to add:
The reconstruction of what Richard III looked like. h/t to SeaTurtle and IreGyre:
The CSPAN mock trial of Richard III h/t to Dave the Sandman and postxian: