Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Long Live the King"! Richard III's bones come to light

From the merest possibility to "beyond reasonable doubt," it all began with part of a stone frieze, which looked to have been from a choir stall from the medieval Greyfriars Church, being discovered during an excavation of a parking lot in Leicester, England. 
I've been following this evolving drama, which came to a stunning conclusion in the last few days, via the History Blog all along. If you want some deep background and many well-prepared visuals, do visit this endlessly fascinating blog!
The nutshell is that location of the skeleton, skull shape, wound evidence, body type (including the scoliosis that caused Richard to be dubbed "crookback"), and most telling of all, mitochondrial DNA extracted from a tooth and matched with living descendents all add up to a definitive conclusion: that these indeed are the remains of Richard III—the last Plantagenet king of England who died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. (The photo above shows a facial reconstruction done from the skull.)
 Britain has been in a tiz, to say the least, up to and following the announcement. The latest twist is that the city of York (remember the War of the Roses?) is contesting Leicester's intention to inter Richard in their city's cathedral and is gathering sigs to submit to the Queen so they can reclaim their man. 
The persona of Richard III is known to most through the Tudor-slanted portrayal by Shakespeare in the play of the same name. But Josephine Tey begged to differ in her classic 1952 mystery novel The Daughter of Time. In a column called Second Reading, Washington Post critic Jonathan Yardley recommends the book highly, as do I:
Its protagonist -- unless one considers that to be Richard himself -- is Alan Grant, the Scotland Yard inspector around whom many of Tey's novels revolve. The suspense does indeed mount, as the cliche goes, with a fair number of unexpected twists along the way; Tey was good at that. But "The Daughter of Time" deserves to be read as a work of literate (even literary) fiction, not just as a detective story. As such, it stands up surpassingly well.
Here is Jane Austen's take on the matter, in her youthful History of England of 1791:
The Character of this Prince has been in general very severely treated by Historians, but as he was a York, I am rather inclined to suppose him a very respectable Man. It has indeed been confidently asserted that he killed his two Nephews & his Wife, but it has also been declared that he did not kill his two Nephews, which I am inclined to beleive true; & if this is the case, it may also be affirmed that he did not kill his Wife, for if Perkin Warbeck was really the Duke of York, why might not Lambert Simnel be the Widow of Richard. Whether innocent or guilty, he did not reign long in peace, for Henry Tudor E. of Richmond as great a villain as ever lived, made a great fuss about getting the Crown & having killed the King at the battle of Bosworth, he succeeded to it.
In other news of Royals, Hilary Mantel's fictionalized life of Henry VIII's right-hand man Thomas Cromwell, as portrayed in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, are being dramatized in a six-part series by the BBC. (The third book of Mantel's Tudor trilogy is the forthcoming The Mirror and the Light). I imagine we're in for a long wait!

13 comments:

  1. Wonderfully interesting. The picture of the reconstruction reminds me of the prince in "Shrek", though.

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    1. I thought I'd seen him somewhere before!

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  2. The story of Henry VII as villain is unknown to me. Why did Ms. Austen beiieve this? I must have missed a juicy tale back in English history. Are there historical references that Tudor PR hasn't revised?

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    1. alas, I don't know. Where are the history buffs when you need them??

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    2. I specialize in American history, and know very little about English royalty, but the consensus seems to be that Ms. Austen wrote her short history when she was only 15, and like many a teenage girl has been known to be, was just being goofy, kidding around. (On the book’s Dedication page, she calls herself "a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian.”)

      I think that overall, Henry VII would get a positive rating as king, although this site says that after his wife died, “Henry became somewhat reclusive and even more avaricious.” Apparently his reign — especially near the end — was marked by personal greed. He also was not much beloved for establishing the Court of Star Chamber, which (although perhaps so not bad as it’s often pictured), still worked in many extralegal ways.

      p.s. The Daughter of Time is a very very good book, one of the few detective stories that really rises above the ‘genre‘ category. Back in 1990, the Crime Writers’s Association in Britain rated it the best crime novel of all time.

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  3. JP Mullaney

    The Baron Von Mugenhausen, autodidact that I am, can lay claim to no small amount of steadily acquired historical knowledge. [Huh? Speak English Baron. Speaking of Jolly Ol, Aren't you the guy who went to the Tower of London and (after affecting an offensive "home-grown" accent) screamed from one of the windows to passers-by on the Thames, pathetically pleading with them to come to your rescue? And that the extent of your literary prowess, Mr. Auto-doofus, is the complete oeuvre of Ian Fleming's James Bond books? The Great Books indeed, Mr Bond-]
    Speaking of Kings, I direct your attention to "Elvis Week" with an "Elvis Tribute Artist" everyone. Monday's ETA tore through "Jailhouse Rock" and last night's kicked it with "(You Ain't Nothing But a) Hounddog". Check it Fans, Friends, and Frenemies!
    Respectfully Yours,
    Baron Von Mugenhausen
    P.S. What was your question again?

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    1. Verily the Baron doth rock us with laughter, all around the clock.

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  4. Always a pleasure, Baron!
    Jane Austen's History of England, "by a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant Historian", is characterised by Wiki as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the texts she was made to study at school. Therefore anything she said in this might mean the opposite (e. g. Richard was a York, and thus a very respectable man).
    On the other hand, it is known that Henry VII made a fortune while King, but honi soit qui mal y pense, as Charles II would say.

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    1. Oops. I got distracted (above) and didn't get down this far to see that you’d already answered your own question.

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    2. One would never consider you redundant!!

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    3. Your comments are always interesting--with or without clickable links--and I hope nothing I can say will ever deter you, or anyone, from adding to the conversation. I love to listen more than talk.

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  5. The Baron surely Fond-a
    The nom de plume persona
    who calls thyself gioconda

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    1. Aw, shucks! Thank you, Baron!

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