The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Richard III

     I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
     Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
     Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
     Into this breathing world, scarce half made up
            Richard III Act1 Scene 1

Statue by the Cathedral
I'm going to let you into a secret dear Reader: I share something with Richard III. No, I didn't spend the last 500 years under a car park in Leicester, I am, like him, "deformed, unfinished ......scarce half made up". Yep, I have scoliosis. My spine is curved. Or in other words I'm a hunchback.

It means I've always had a soft spot for the much-maligned king.  I never believed that he had the Princes in the Tower murdered (though I'd be prepared to believe that someone did it thinking they were doing him a favour); I always hoped that one day I'd learn something positive about him.

And that's where the latest day out comes in. I decided to visit Richard in his adopted home of Leicester. Of course it was never his idea to adopt Leicester. He didn't set out on 22 August 1485 to lose the Battle of Bosworth and so, by a convoluted route, end up under a city centre car park.  He always said he wanted to be buried in York, but when the fight to provide his final resting place ended York Minster came in second.

The car park
This, as Sellar and Yeatman would say, is A Good Thing. York didn't really need an additional tourist attraction. Leicester has done him proud. I regret to say that my photos of his tomb came out very badly blurred so I can't show you the views I'd like. I plan to return to get better shots.

Richard turned up in a car park on the site of the old Franciscan priory (Greyfriars) which, these days, is opposite the Cathedral. (That's quite likely, when you think about it.) After the scientists finished doing all their DNA tests and the rest of the investigations they subjected him to, he was re-interred in the Cathedral. The site opposite, where he was found, is now the Richard III visitor centre.

It covers his family history, the background to the Wars of the Roses (in which the House of Lancaster and Richard's House of York argued over who was the rightful King), the lead up to the Battle of Bosworth, and the treachery of the Stanley family who brought their forces to the battlefield then held back to see which side was winning before they joined in!

Model of Richard's spine
However, it was the upper floor that had most effect on me, where the topic of Richard's shape is discussed. We're all familiar with Shakespeare's version of Richard's story. He's portrayed as an ugly, misshapen and evil man who will stop at nothing to get his own way,  Now the Tudors (who gained the throne after victory at Bosworth) believed that deformity and disability were linked to moral weakness. In other words, the more twisted Richard's body, the worse his character. Shakespeare, who relied on Tudor patronage, exaggerated the deformity to make Richard seem more unworthy of the throne.

Will also lied about a few other things: that famous quote about offering his kingdom for a horse, for example. The implication is that he wanted means to escape, but contemporary reports say he went down fighting and determined not to yield a yard of ground.  The archaeological evidence supports that. Richard died from multiple head injuries caused by a number of different weapons.

In fact much of what we learned about Richard at school conflicts with the truth. Contemporary reports of the man suggest he was, in fact, a fine and respected King. Like this one on the wall of the visitor centre:

King Richard III Visitor Centre
Putting a face to Richard


  1. The first historical novel I ever read with Richard in as a character painted him as very evil but when I was about 19 or 20 I worked with someone who was of the belief that he was not so bad as he was painted. She got me to read 'Daughter of Time' by Josephine Tey and then Paul Murray Kendall's Biography, I was hooked and joined the RIII Society a year or two later. I was thrilled when he was found in the city of my birth (although we left when I was 6) and have visited the centre and the tomb a couple of times now, like you I think the city have done him proud. I remember my first reading as a teenager of '1066 and All That' and laughing so much my stomach hurt, the book is still on my shelves (as is the Josephine Tey) I wonder if I would laugh at it so much now?:)

    1. I'm planning to track down a copy of Daughter of Time if I can. I have 1066 and All That within reach now. I always loved "What have you done with your mother? If nun, write 'none'."


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