My Kingdom For A Tomb

Stop Arguing And Bury Richard III

Richard III has had a bad press from history. This is in no small measure down to his portrayal in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, the hunch-backed devious murderer:

…since I cannot prove a lover…
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous…

(Act 1 scene 1)

It’s a great play, but it’s not history. Given that Shakespeare lived during the reign of Elizabeth I, it’s perhaps not surprising to portray Richard in this way: it was the Queen’s grandfather (later Henry VII) who defeated Richard in battle at Bosworth in 1485.

Richard only reigned for two years, so it’s hard to get much of an account of him as king. I have read descriptions of him as an able ruler and experienced military commander. He is, however, tainted by his alleged murder of Edward IV’s sons, the so-called Princes in The Tower, though it’s fair to add that this is also a charge levelled at Henry VII.

The recent discovery of bones under a Leicester car park and their confirmation as those of Richard was little short of amazing after five hundred years. The bones told a tale of violent death, with serious damage to the skull that would have been fatal. However, the discovery has been undermined by the unseemly row that has broken out over where Richard should be buried. I’m glad that he is to be buried – I’ve always found bones or bodies being displayed in museums distasteful. The team that discovered the King’s bones want him to be buried in Leicester cathedral, but there is also an argument in favour of York Minster: Richard apparently expressed a wish to be buried there.

Whatever they decide, I wish they would make their minds up. All this arguing is rather undignified. My own view is that as he wanted to be buried in York, his wishes should be respected. And soon.

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