I don’t really know when Richard III’s story first came to my attention. Whenever it was, he has fascinated me for years. It’s not so much what history says he did or didn’t do that fascinates me. To me he is a solid line during a period in history filled with nothing but curves.
How anyone could successfully maneuver the period referred to now as the War of the Roses, without some stains on their character is beyond me. This was a time when family betrayed and killed family; heads were removed and displayed for all to see; young men were married to old women for political advantage; lies and deception were at every turn. If you blinked for one moment, you would be overtaken.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester was not a perfect man, but nor was Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII, or any of the lesser characters during this drama in history. The Henrys and Edward were respected in death as anointed kings of England – why wasn’t Richard? For years, his burial was all but myth – he was buried in a friary destroyed by Henry VIII; his body was flung in a river; and his coffin used as a horse trough. He was defeated in battle at Bosworth in 1485, but why wasn’t he honored as a rightful king in death? Many would argue that because of the things he did in life – he was unworthy of honor in death. Did Henry VIII do less? No – by far, he was worse…and he is celebrated as one of England’s greatest kings – even though he plundered and destroyed some of the most beautiful religious buildings of the age and killed a couple of his wives. Perhaps this elite club of shame of which Richard is the only member, is why he is so fascinating.
Exactly because Henry Tudor was the true usurper without much of a claim to the throne of England, Richard had to be lowered in prestige after death. This was the only way Henry Tudor could be elevated as Henry VII. Richard’s body was physically dishonored immediately after the battle. His mutilated, naked body was thrown without coffin or shroud into a shallow grave. He was never accorded a reburial – unlike Henry VI who was honored as an anointed king even though he was probably murdered by Richard’s family. For over five centuries, the location of Richard’s body was unknown, but somehow his legacy survived despite the efforts of Shakespeare and the Tudors.
– cover photo courtesy of CNN