Posts Tagged ‘ Richard III ’

Sticking the Boot into Historical Debate

Sticking the Boot into Historical Debate.

Over the last seven days, understandably, Richard III has rarely been out of the news.  The discovery and positive identification of his remains must count as one of the most important archaeological discoveries of recent times, and has certainly fuelled a whole raft of discussion surrounding his life; his times, and the tragedy of his appalling death.  But, if there was one thing I noticed amidst all the debate, discussion and general excitement; it was the way in which this find seemed to unite scholars/enthusiasts of all Historical persuasions.  The whole event was as warmly embraced by the Tudor enthusiasts as it was the Ricardian – and just the briefest glance at the numerous Tudor related pages bore that out.  It was everywhere – and everyone greeted the news with open arms, even if they aren’t falling over themselves to turn Richard III into a super-human saint.  Nor was there any “Tudor Propaganda” style demonisation of Richard– just the thrill of living through history in the making.

Roll on to late last week when a “Henry Tudor Society” page made an appearance on Facebook.  No sooner had the page been born, then it was flooded with angry Ricardians flaming/trolling the page and its owner. To use the phrase of one person who (presumably) was helping with the influx of trolls, they wanted to “stick the boot in” and presumably intimidate the owner of the page into closing his new group down. According to another of the angry brigade: “pay back is a bitch”. Pay back for what, exactly?  An unfavourable (to them) outcome of the Battle of Bosworth (fought 528 years ago now). You piss on my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, you piss on me.  Is this really the level we have sunk to?  We’re studying History; not perpetuating its prejudices and hatreds.

One of the greatest tragedies of this whole carry-on, however, is the moderate Ricardians who attempted to rein the trolls in and restore some calm.  They were branded “haters” of Richard III; haters of the Richard III Society and haters of the group who were “ashamed”. So, the gist of their argument is: unless you’re slinging mud at people who like to study the Tudors; trolling innocent members of the public, and making a general nuisance of yourself, then you’re not a proper Ricardian. I should imagine that many, right-thinking Ricardians, would be pretty appalled at being lumped in with this small band of fanatics.

Many Ricardians have a genuine and sincere interest in clearing away the myths (and yes, many of those myths were created during the 118 year Tudor rule) and bringing the real Richard III out into the light.  This is not achieved through flaming the Henry Tudor Society – or any other Tudor group. You can’t simply right one wrong by creating several others.  Spend less time demonising the Tudors; spend more time studying Richard III himself, develop a rational argument and you might just get somewhere. Petty insults, rabid flaming and name-calling merely makes you look like an incoherent, intolerant, bigot.

However, it is also important to remember that this is a small group of narrow minded individuals who were just looking for a fight. They claimed to be taking “the high ground” against Henricians/Tudor fans (while organising a flame war – and without the slightest trace of irony!). These people do not represent Ricardianism as a whole, and the Richard III Society plays a hugely significant role in the study of the late Medieval era with a wealth of online sources and information.  It would be an unmitigated tragedy if they were to become defined by these irrational troublemakers.

On the other hand, having said all this; these people do not have a monopoly on Historical debate.  If people wish to discuss Henry VII, then they are entitled to do so free from the threat of intimidation and harassment from those who disagree.  The same applies to everything else in life. Marginalising and sidelining moderates; denigrating the opposition and attacking anything that’s ideologically different is a dangerous path down which to go. It is precisely that which the Richard III Society claim to be against (seeing as it is this that they believe caused the damage to Richard in the first place).

In short; let’s all study the era and put right the wrongs.  But please, let’s do so in a rational, well thought out manner that doesn’t involve turning on your own and insulting complete strangers on the internet.  Comment is free, so let’s make the most of it.


(Information from The Henry Tudor Society on Facebook, and the Richard III Society Yahoo discussion group).

Balderdash and Piffle: A Mythical History of England.

I admit it: I’m on of those people who loves nothing more than composing “top ten” lists for just about everything. Top ten CDs, top ten cheeses; top ten everything, really. So it was only a matter of time before my top tens encroached upon my love of History. But, I think I’ve found a way to put this to good use: Historical myths.
Often, they have us pulling our hair or head-desking until our brains fall out (metaphorically at least). Some, we might not even know are myths, so oft repeated are these historical clangers. Their scope and breadth are, frankly, staggering. So, it will come as no surprise that the most difficult part of this post was deciding on just ten. The truth is, I couldn’t, so condensed the disputed paternity cases into one post to help matters along. As for the rest, here goes:
1. Can’t Stand the Heat?
At number one is the supposed death of King Edward II. Coerced into abdication in 1327, Edward was sent initially to Kenilworth Castle, and from there on to Berkeley Castle. It is said that at Berkeley, Edward had a hot poker inserted into his fundaments, and thus met his death. However, this account of the King’s death was written several years later and there is no evidence to substantiate that claim at all. All other (contemporary) pronouncements of his death cite either natural causes, and one even claimed that he died of “grief”.
It would be impossible to fully explain the wrongness of this ancient Historical Myth in just one post. But, much more information can be found here: Edward II Blogspot, and this particular article that deals with his alleged death. LINKY!
2. Oh the Irony!
Henry VIII was destined for the Church, the same Church he “destroyed”. Oh! The irony! Well, it isn’t, because he wasn’t. This story first appeared a century after Henry’s death (28th January 1547), in the account of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. The idea that a newly established dynasty such as the Tudor Dynasty would waste a precious second son by gifting him to the Church is as perplexing as it is unlikely. On the contrary, contemporary records show us that Henry VII was actually planning an Imperial match for his second son after the successful marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, Prince of Wales.
3. Who’s the Daddy?
Edward I is unique among Medieval Kings in a number of ways, both conventional and unconventional. One of those “unconventionals” is that we know exactly what was happening; where it was happening, and at roughly what time, at the moment of his conception. Someone attempted to assassinate his father, Henry III, but missed because he was in bed with his wife, Eleanor of Provence, making babies. Making Edward, to be precise. That doesn’t stop some from speculating that Simon De Montfort was Edward’s real father, however. Similar cases involve Margaret of Anjou (and her only child, Edward of Lancaster). In Margaret’s case, one of the alleged father’s had even been dead for two years by the time her son was born. Thanks to Braveheart, many now believe that William Wallace was the true father of Edward III (regardless of the fact that Edward’s mother was a small child at the time of Wallace’s execution). Then, there is Cecily Nevill (mother to Edward IV and Richard III) being accused of sleeping with a Kentish Archer by the name of Edward Blaybourne. True, those rumours were put about – but they were politically motivated and entirely malicious. Regardless, many are still determined to keep it going, even several centuries later. Sad, really.
4. Keep an Eye on Those Archers, Harold!
King Harold: famously killed with an arrow to the eye at the Battle of Hastings in October, 1066. This is based largely on the depiction of Harold in the Bayeux Tapestry, and it’s far more likely that he was killed with injuries more substantial that a single shot to the eye. This may be a lot more picky than others on this list, but it’s so pervasive and widely believed, I think it still belongs here.
5. The Wicked Witch of the East Country.
This involves one of the two people who could have their very own Top Ten Myth List dedicated entirely to themselves (the other being Edward II). Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, who’s short reign ended on the scaffold on 19th May, 1536, just short of three years on from her coronation. However, at no point was she ever accused of witchcraft, nor did these allegations show up in any indictment against her. Just for the record, there is no evidence to suggest that she gave birth to a deformed baby, or that she had six fingers (all allegations made against her by people who had never met her, several decades after her execution – most notably, Nicholas Sander). Not even Eustace Chapuys bothered to make this stuff up.
6. “Tudor” Propaganda?
No one suspected Richard of Gloucester (Richard III) could possibly have had a hand in the demise of his nephews, until Henry VII “blamed him” through a play that wasn’t even written until the best part of a century after his death. Actually, Richard was plagued by rumours of his involvement in the deaths of Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury in his lifetime. The earliest record comes from an Italian Scholar, Dominic Mancini, who was visiting England at the time of Richard’s usurpation in April, 1483. He reports that the word on the street was that Richard had “done away with” his nephews, so it was obviously commonly gossiped about a full two years before Henry Tudor’s return to England in 1485.
7. Casual Observers.
Another one that concerns Henry VII is his actions at Bosworth. According to many, he sat back and did absolutely nothing during the actual fighting. Despite having an army that was only a fraction of the size of his opponent’s, and that he came within an inch of losing his life during that fateful day (22nd August, 1485). All of that suggests to me that Henry was definitely there, and definitely involved. Also providing hard evidence for Henry’s involvement is the fact that his Standard Bearer (who would have been near Henry at all times was killed in action on that day (the Standard Bearer in question was William Brandon, father to Charles, FYI).
Other myths around Henry VII: that he executed a child. In reality, Edward Plantagenet was 24, and was executed following an attempted escape from the Tower of London.
8. Burning Ambitions?
Recently, there has been a swell of revisionist thinking with regards to Queen Mary I (aka “Bloody Mary”). However, this has had a rather detrimental effect on her hisband, Philip II of Spain. Firstly, there is the issue of Jane Grey. It was not stated anywhere that he required Jane Grey’s death before he would come to England. It was not part of an agreement, or play any part in negotiations that led to the marriage. Mary, according to contemporary sources, signed Jane’s death warrant freely, and under no duress.
Secondly, is the ever controversial heretic burnings. It has been stated as fact that it was actually Philip who compelled Mary to burn up to 200 so-called heretics, including Thomas Cranmer, a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The reality was that Philip could see clearly the damage the burnings were doing, and begged Mary to cease and desist. The people may have blamed him, the marriage was disastrously unpopular, and it gave Philip all the more reason to actually object to the burnings, rather than encourage them.
9. The Family Jewels.
We’re back with Edward II for number nine. The old story goes that when Isabella of France first arrived, the crown jewels that were rightfully hers were, instead, given to Piers Gaveston, causing much distress and gnashing of teeth. The reality is that Edward gave the jewels to Gaveston so that he could convey them safely to the Tower of London in preparation for Isabella’s coronation. A small fact often omitted by Edward’s numerous detractors.
10. Medieval Psycho?
Edward of Lancaster, the only child of King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, was just seventeen when he was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, in 1471. He never got to be King, and was deprived of his birthrights for most of his life. With his father seriously impaired through a series of mental health issues, it was left to his mother, Queen Margaret, to defend him, the King, and their inheritance. Edward could be forgiven for being angry on occasion. Yet, the one time he openly displayed that displeasure has led to him being typecast as a complete psychopath, hungry for blood. The basis for this utter defamation? He once said that a traitor deserved to have his head cut off. He was seven at the time, and he his parents were losing everything. Also, shock horror, it was the fifteenth century, and traitors lost their heads – it was a norm. Seriously, give the kid a break! Also, it should be stated that Edward never once slept with his mother, nor entertained any incestuous thoughts pertaining to his mother (or any other close blood relatives).
So, that was my top ten myths; my balderdash and piffle history of England. I know there are many that have been omitted, and many that others would have liked to see included. But it would take forever and day to round them all up. This is just my own personal selection, and I want to thank everyone who gave me ideas of what to include in the list, and let me bounce ideas off them. Thank you!

Warner, Kathryn: Edward II Blogspot.
Morris, Marc: A Great and Terrible King (Edward I)
Seward, Desmond: Wars of the Roses
Penn, Thomas: The Winter King (The Dawn of Tudor England)

Vincent, Nicholas: Britain 1066 – 1485
Mancini, Dominic: The Usurpation of Richard III
Letter and Papers of Henry VIII

William Shakespeare and the Hunch Back of Fotheringay?

William Shakespeare: Richard III.

Come to daddy!


I’ll be the first to admit that with my first post here, I targeted the great sitting duck of dramatised history. Picking out inaccuracies in “The Tudors” is like shooting fish in a barrel. So, to demonstrate that there are no sacred cows in this blog, I now want to have a look at William Shakespeare’s infamous and controversial play, “Richard III”, the foundations of which were based on Sir Thomas More’s “Life of Richard III”.


On the surface, there is nothing to attract undue attention to Richard III. The prose flows, and the sentences are as beautifully constructed in this as in the rest of Shakespeare’s plays. But therein lies the problem. Contained within the opening address, (act one: scene one), are numerous references to Richard’s physical shortcomings:


Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,

Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,

And that so lamely and unfashionable

That darks bark at me as I halt by them”

The issue is that of deformity. Of course, this is merely a device Shakespeare has utilised to make Richard as physically repellent as he is villainous. It is a device that is further enhanced by the reaction of Richard’s future wife, Anne Neville in act one: scene two:

“Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity;

For ’tis thy presence that exhales this blood

From cold and empty veins where no blood dwells.

Thy deeds inhuman and unnatural.”

So there we have poor old Richard, duke of Gloucester. He’s so ugly that the dogs bark at him as he passes by, little babies start crying the moment he lowers his hideous visage over their prams, and his future wife is spitting in rage whenever he tries to pass the time of day with her. In fact, he’s so acutely aware of his own deformity, that he’s given up being nice to people so he has resolved to be a villain instead. The first victim of his villainy is the docile King, Henry VI, a fact he freely admits in a confrontation with Anne Nevill.


Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind

That never dream’st on aught but butcheries.

Didst thou not kill this King?


I grant ye – yea.” (1:2)

And of course, there is also the small matter of Richard’s brother George, duke of Clarence. Richard conspires to have him arrested, and blames it on the Queen, Elizabeth Wydeville. Clarence’s eventual execution gives rise for Richard’s joy. But this is not the most controversial aspect of the play. The real monster in the text comes much later on.

Following the death of Richard’s elder brother, King Edward IV; new King, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, are taken by Gloucester to the Tower. There, he has them smothered, and he steals the crown for himself. It is one of the most famous scenes from all of Shakespeare’s plays. Having won the support of James Tyrell, it is Tyrell who hires two thugs to perform the deed at Richard’s (now King Richard) order.

When Dighton thus told on – ‘We smothered

The most replenished sweet work of nature

That from the prime creation e’er she framed.’” (act 4; 3).

These scenes in the play have been so controversial, it has spawned an enormous reaction in historians, and history enthusiasts alike, and not without reason. The idea that Richard III was deformed in any way is laughable. He was a highly successful military man, and fought alongside Edward IV during countless battles (and usually emerged the victor).

Although Henry VI was killed within the precincts of the Tower, there is no evidence to suggest that Richard was involved in it (quite contrary to his unflinching confession to Anne Nevill). It stands to reason that Henry VI’s death was done by order of Edward IV, but even that (understandably) is circumstantial. As for the Duke of Clarence, he had proved himself to be a thorn in Edward IV’s side time after time. It was not Richard’s cold-hearted manipulation that brought him down, but his own erratic behaviour, and the stubborn persistence of the Wydeville faction.

Then, there is Richard’s relationship with Anne Nevill. The union was, as with the vast majority of marital unions of the time, a contract that was mutually beneficial; there is no evidence of any hate on Anne’s behalf. Although many like to speculate that theirs was actually a love match (with little by way of supporting evidence to back that up). Anne’s wealth and status was probably as much a sweetener for Richard as much as her natural charms. Some speculate the pair could even have been childhood sweethearts; despite there being quite a gulf in their ages (Richard was about eight years older than her).

As for the two young Princes (Richard’s nephews), that is as much a mystery as it ever was. Dominic Mancini was an Italian merchant in London during the fateful summer of 1483. He reports rumours that Richard III had had his nephews murdered, having already declared them illegitimate, and taken the crown for himself. But these were rumours that had swept the country, and a far cry from the cut and dry fact as presented by Shakespeare.

That is not to say that Richard was a paragon of virtue either. He bankrupted the Countess of Warwick, and had her declared dead (while she was, in fact, still alive), so he could get his hands on her lands and inheritance. In his fight for the crown, he had William Hastings judicially murdered, along with Anthony Wydeville, and Richard Grey when he intercepted them transporting the young King, Edward V, to London (at Stony Stratford).

I shy away from branding Shakespeare’s play as “Tudor Propaganda”. I think he uses literary devices, and a narrative that portrays Richard as the epitome of evil purely for the effectiveness of the overall theme. However, it is done so in a way that could be taken for propaganda when looked at from a twenty-first century point of view.

Before I sign off, I want to draw attention to my personal favourite part of the play. It is the moment, at the thick of the battle of Bosworth, and King Richard’s horse is mired in the mud and the King is all but vanquished. Unfortunately, like the rest of the play, it is completely fictional. Nevertheless, for me, it remains the defining moment of the piece:

(Richard):Slave, I have set my life upon a cast,

And I will stand the hazard of the die.

I think there be six Richmonds in the field;

Five have I slain today instead of him.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (IV:5).

The real Richard III


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