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Thursday, 14 February 2013

Richard III: The body in the car park

Just had to give my thoughts on the absolutely stunning discovery of the body of Richard III, found underneath a Social Services car park in Leicester, England & the associated programme recently aired on Channel 4. The documentary was very interesting but somewhat lightweight in feel, (perhaps the programme makers really didn't believe they would find the body of the last Plantaganet King), with an unknown presenter who although likeable enough & did a reasonable job, really lacked the gravitas of a historical "heavyweight" like David Starkey, or even Tony Robinson or my preferred choice would have been Dan Snow, who would have clearly spelled out the history of the piece in a balanced way. Philippa Langley and the Richard III Society are to be warmly congratulated for being the driving force and the sponsors of the project, as also the archaeological team from Leicester University. We could have done with a bit more of the archaeology in the programme. The "Independent" in their review of the programme rather cruelly accused Ms Langley of being too emotional and acting more like the dead king's bereaved widow than a dispassionate historian, when forgetting she, and the Society, want to restore the King's reputation as a good King. The Richard III Society believe Richard's name was blackened by Henry VII, & Sir Thomas More in his biography of Richard III & the Tudors in order to legitimise their claim to the throne. The Tudor's depiction of Richard III as a hunchback, with a curved spine and withered arm is also famously mentioned in Shakespeare's play "Richard III" that also blackens the last Plantaganet king's name. However the body found in the car park was on the site of a mediaeval monastery, where historical sources suggest he was buried. The body crucially also shows a curved spine (which the Richard III society or Ricardians had previously disputed) or "scoliasos" to give the correct medical term. Anatomists say although he had a curved spine, this wouldn't have been too pronounced and he would have been able to don a suit of armour. But the skeletal remains disprove the statement that he had a withered arm. Examination of the skull revealed some very severe trauma to the skull and these wounds would have been fatal. These would have been inflicted when King Richard fell off his horse in battle and when dismounted he famously cried "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" according to Shakespeare writing over a century later. Also I believe, historical sources DO lean towards the assumption that Richard III ordered the deaths of the 2 princes in the tower (although I respect the opinion of Ricardians who hotly dispute this, claiming it was part of the Tudor propaganda campaign blackening his name), the legitimate heirs to the throne who had claim before Richard to the throne. We need to examine the motives of the King according to the ethics and brutality of the time and not through the "lens" of modern day ethics, his brother the reigning King Edward for example had their middle brother, the Duke of Clarence executed after a plot to take the throne and I believe Richard acted under the same motivation to get rid of the young Princes so he could seize power for himself. The programme DNA tested a relative of Richard III, Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinet maker now working in London, and these tests proved there was a positive and conclusive DNA match. Finally, the documentary showed Britain's leading facial reconstruction artist recreating what the face really looked like, given the contours of the skull. To my mind, the newly restored face heavily resembled the famous painting hanging in the National Portrait gallery. Anyway, a stunning discovery, a very interesting programme & I look forward to visiting Leicester very soon to see the exhibition, the car park and Richard III links & compiling a brand new talk on "Richard III: Myth, History & Re-discovery in the Car Park" to be given to any clubs or societies who wish to book me for a fascinating illustrated talk!


James Emerson said...

Hi Peter.

My fiancee and I watched the documentary with interest. I would agree that a more established presenter would have added more gravitas, however we knew him from Horrible Histories, so perhaps it was felt he would connect with a younger audience.

Personally I have to side with the newspaper on the issue of Philippa Langley - as someone who is neutral as to what Richard III was like, I found her very hard to watch, it did appear to me as if she thought of him as a lover almost. One of the foreign Richard III society members also denied that Richard III stood to gain from the princes deaths, which struck me as denialism at its worst.

That apart, it was very interesting and its good that he can now be buried properly.


Peter Ransome said...

Thanks for your very interesting comments, James, I also think some of the Richard III Society members are turning a blind eye to the fact that RIII almost certainly had his nephews murdered in the Tower.