Tom Mackenzie: The hatchet job on the Hunchback King
I DON'T want to bore you and I know that for some history is one big yawn, but death in battle and gruesome carryings on afterwards do have a certain appeal.
The discovery of the remains of 'the king in the car park' does press all the right buttons.
Just as thought provoking is the amazing amount of interest it has gained all around the world. This should I suppose cause us to look again at this little episode in our island story.
Of all our kings, Richard III, ('Crookback Dick') has evoked more scorn and horror than any. Four matters account for this; First, and undoubtedly the greatest, is the charge that he murdered his two young nephews in the Tower. Second is that his level of alleged butchery of family and associates beats anything anyone else ever did including Henry VIII. Third, is that he was allegedly grossly deformed. Fourth, and most damning in the eyes of posterity, is that all of this has been 'validated' by the world's greatest playwright, Shakespeare.
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As a result the last truly English monarch and the final descendant of its longest reigning dynasty by far, the Plantagenets, has been marked down in the history books as a bad 'un.
My purpose in this article is to demonstrate that there is an alternative, and altogether different narrative.
Unfortunately for Richard's detractors we are a nation of meticulous record keepers and now our interest has been reawakened we have decided to reopen the case.
I have to tell you that it does not look good for the followers of the bad 'un take on events.
History, as we all know is almost always written by the victors.
How would our carpet bombing of civilians have looked had there been a Nazi Nuremberg?
In that long ago case the victors were the Tudors. They knew perfectly well that their claim to the throne was wafer thin as compared to Richard's and it was therefore incumbent on them to do everything in their power to discredit him and make him appear unworthy. They could not, unfortunately, fault his antecedents.
On the question of the most heinous of the charges levelled against Richard, that of murdering his two nephews, there is not a scrap of real evidence to say that he did it.
He may have done, but then so could a host of others. You could fill a room, Poirot style, and point in any one of a number of directions including the usurper king.
Richard took the throne, yes because he was ambitious, but because he believed he had a perfect right to do so.
There is strong evidence to show that his brother, the king, had made a bigamist marriage while he was in France and that the princes in the Tower, which by the way was not a prison then, but a royal palace, were bastards. Certainly the church said so after the king's death. So too did the aristocracy, the majority of whom were happy to see Richard crowned. They were happy also because after 30 years of terrible bloodletting in the Wars of the Roses England needed stability above everything. Richard almost certainly also saw it that way too. England's interests were not were not going to be served by a boy king.
Next we come to the matter of our country being a meticulous keeper of records. The record shows that Richard carried out an extraordinary range of measures, almost all of which benefited the common man.
None deny that he was a very able administrator and he did it all in two short years.
As for his alleged 'butchery' of family and associates this too fails to stand up to close scrutiny.
We are left then with Shakespeare's depiction of an evil looking, misshapen hunchback (Quasimodo style) with a withered arm and a cruel, unfeeling nature; a psychopathic schizophrenic no less.
Well, forensics have told us that he was none of these things. He did have a distorted sideways spine, (scoliosis) but this would not have made him look like a hunchback.
He had no withered arm and a recreation of his face shows him to look perfectly normal, even slightly effeminate.
We should have known not to take Shakespeare seriously when he invited us to believe that dogs barked when Richard passed by.
It was easy to badmouth Richard because people through most of history have believed that deformity was a mark of God's displeasure. But forensics told us something else that was interesting. Richard's frame was slight; almost feminine – not at all like the mighty frames of his Plantagenet ancestors.
That incredible bravery which he showed in battle and, most particularly, during that last heroic charge to cut down Henry Tudor in person, in which he almost succeeded, is all the more remarkable because of this. It was the equivalent of a handicapped woman plunging into a body of armoured knights.
So here we have a monarch no court of law would ever convict of murder, who enacted enlightened measures to help ordinary people and who, despite severe handicaps, fought bravely in battle. What's not to admire?
As for being a psychopath and schizophrenic, well, modern medics who know about these things, having examined his conduct, say he was not. He was said to have cried at his wife's funeral; been incredibly loyal to his late brother, the king, through many trials and tribulations and shown clemency at the last moments of his life. He could have executed, as was then the normal forfeit, the hostage son of his main supporter, Lord Stanley, with his 6,000 men who betrayed him at the last moment and cost Richard the battle and his life, but he did not.
It was to the great good fortune of Richard's denigrators, the Tudors, that they had such a person as Shakespeare to re-write history for them.
That was a gift from heaven. Because of him and his worldwide fame this is the received wisdom concerning Richard down the ages. Time, I think, to do a bit more re-writing only this time evidence based. Only one final act remains in this great saga of English kingship. That is that Richard be re-interred with the respect and reverence that he was denied and was his due – and that his modern successor should be there to put the seal of acceptance and approval of the world's most famous monarchy on one of its own. Follow Tom Mackenzie on Twitter@FoundlingTom