An Focal

King Richard III

King_Richard_IIIGreat Britain has had a gruesome and bloody past especially when it comes to their monarchy and one of the country’s biggest villains has been uncovered in a car park in Leicester.

The skeletal remains of the former warrior King Richard III of England were unearthed during an archaeological dig by the University of Leicester.

Experts say evidence including battle wounds, curvature of the spine and the more than four months of tests since strongly support the DNA findings that this is the body of the king who has been missing for 500 years.

The skeleton was discovered buried among the remains of what was once the city’s Greyfriars friary despite reports that the defeated monarch’s body had been dug up and thrown into a nearby river.

Archaeologists say their examination of the skeleton shows Richard met a violent death. They found evidence of eight head wounds and two wounds to the body as well as several ‘humiliation injuries’ which fitted in accounts of the fatal battle.

Born in 1452, he grew up during the bitter and bloody Wars of the Roses. His brother Edward became king in 1461. He was succeeded by his 12-year-old son Edward V with Richard as his protector.

Edward was declared illegitimate, and Richard was crowned king in his place. Edward and his brother were held in the Tower of London, and later disappeared. Richard has long been blamed for their murder, giving rise to the legend of the Princes in the Tower..

Richard has often been cast as the villainous king, deformed and murderous but how much of that was Tudor propaganda?

During Richard’s reign, the historian John Rous praised him as a “good lord” who punished “oppressors of the commons”, adding that he had “a great heart”. He reversed this position during Henry VII’s reign, and portrayed Richard as a freakish individual who was born with teeth and shoulder-length hair after having been in his mother’s womb for two years.

After his death, Richard’s image was tarnished by propaganda fostered by his Tudor successors who sought to legitimise their claim to the throne.

All these characteristics are repeated by Shakespeare, who portrays him as having a hunch, a limp and a withered arm.

Richard’s good qualities of cleverness and bravery were never reputed and he had a reputation as a promoter of legal fairness.

Richard endowed King’s College and Queens’ College at Cambridge University, and made grants to the church.

He planned the establishment of a large chantry chapel in York Minster, with over one hundred priests.

In December 1483, Richard instituted the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard.

He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time.

He founded the College of Arms, banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.

Despite this, the image of Richard as a ruthless power-grabber remained dominant in the 18th and 19th centuries.

(Text originally published in An Focal Issue 8 Vol XXI Feb 19th 2013)

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