The low down on Richard III


With Richard III recently found, conveniently buried in an ‘R’ marks the spot scenario in a Leicester car park, historians all over the world are triumphantly throwing their hats into the air and celebrating the miraculous discovery of the stereotypically evil Plantagenet king.

Famously known as the hobbling hunchback who snatched the English crown in the final years of the Wars of the Roses, threw his belated brother’s kids in a tower for safekeeping and proceeded to suffocate them in the night – Richard gets a bad rep. It might be confusing to some of you as to why us historians are so bothered about some old brown bones and a dead monarch’s wonky spine, so here’s your dose of historical knowledge about the Wars of the Roses in a rather large and oversimplified nutshell.

Seven hundred years ago, there was a king and queen who had too many heirs, which led to squabbling. The first son never got his paws on the throne and upon his death, the crown passed to his son, Richard II. Richard was a bit of a tyrant and took the throne too young, and was later overthrown and left to die in a tower by his cousin, Henry IV, the Duke of Lancaster (and thus, a Lancastrian).

Henry’s decision to kill off his cousin mafia-style meant that the crown passed over the York line of the family, who were technically the rightful owners of the crown. This was fine until, a couple of generations later, a man by the name of Henry VI ascended to the throne and had no clue what he was doing. His Yorkist cousin Richard decided to rebel and become the king himself. Sadly, Richard lost his head (literally) and the task was passed on to his eldest son, Edward. Edward managed to usurp Henry and reigned relatively peacefully as Edward IV for a good twenty-two years or so, producing two boys for the throne who went by the rather irregular names, Edward and Richard.

After older-brother Edward inherited the crown, big bad Richard marched down from York, seized the throne and chucked his unsuspecting nephews in the Tower of London. Just when it seemed like the Lancastrians were down and out, Henry Tudor, a man with heavily diluted royal blood and a questionable birth, swooped into England, slaughtered nasty old Richard in battle, married a Yorkist cousin of his to unite the dukedoms of York and Lancaster; and ruled happily ever after.

So as you can see, there were clearly no other names available in the fifteenth century other than Edward, Henry and Richard. And Richard III got his just desserts. This all explains how the Tudor’s came into power and why Lancaster are destined to kick York’s butt every year at the Roses tournament – simply because history says we should.

The myth of Richard III and the rumours about his person is something that has long stumped historians globally. Sir William Shakespeare is the most popular of the Tudor favourites, who portrayed York’s most evil son in his play, ‘Richard III’. A fine piece of Tudor propaganda, Shakespeare created the stereotypical Richard III; a croaky hunchback with mischief on his mind and a dark desire to seize the throne at any cost.

Although the supposed skeleton of Richard III does indeed possess a curved spine, much to the bonkers Ricardian Phillipa Langley’s dismay, finding his body can put to bed some of the suggestions about his person. Of course, we’ll never truly know whether Richard really did kill off his nephews, but that’s the fun of history – we can speculate as much as we like. And obviously, events like this simply cannot occur without a series of jokes appearing alongside them. The Queen Elizabeth twitter parody account stated “If they’d have just asked, one could have told them Richard III was under that car park. One knows where all the Royal skeletons are.” Whereas other jokes tend to go along the lines of the monumental fines Richard racked up living in a car park for almost six hundred years.

Unfortunately for dear old Richard, in the Shakespearean account of his death on the battlefield, he cries “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – little did he know there’s probably a Tesco Express round the corner.

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