The Long Winter of our Discontent…

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.

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Photo courtesy of the BBC

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.

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Richard III’s coffin prior to re-interment – courtesy of IB Times UK
I recently read a very compelling analysis of the key players during the time of Richard’s rise and fall.  Written by Michael K. Jones, Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle is a fabulous read.  The author does a wonderful job of using bits and pieces of historical fact to get into the minds of Richard and his contemporaries.  It’s the first book I have read about Richard, or in fact, the War of the Roses, that actually had new thought and evidence for why the period between Edward IV’s death and Richard’s own death was so volatile. Jones’ argument about the location and unfolding of Bosworth really does convincingly challenge accepted theories about the battle and players involved.  Instead of cowering and offering his kingdom for a horse, Richard appears to have fought to the death after leading a charge to kill the accepted usurper of the time, Henry Tudor.  Everyone was truly amazed when word trickled out that Henry had won the day with his band of foreign mercenaries.
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Photo courtesy of Amazon

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.

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Richard III’s remains, discovered under a parking lot in Leicester – photo courtesy of CNN
When the remains found in Leicester last fall were confirmed a few weeks ago as Richard’s, it seemed like time had finally offered Richard the honor he has been denied for so long.  This was a man who despite treacherous times tried to live most of his life honorably.  He was respected by his brother for being a capable leader in battle and a trustworthy political lieutenant.  This was a man who loved books, stories of chivalry, honor, his family, and his beloved Yorkshire.  I for one hope his tomb is the most grand of all English kings (especially that of Henry Tudor).  Indeed, the long winter of discontent suffered by most Richardians has at last been made “glorious summer by this [long lost and at last found] son of York.”

 – cover photo courtesy of CNN

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