London - Once we know if these bones are in fact Richard III’s, we need to decide whether a more dignified resting-place than a council car park is suitable for a man who was the last truly English king.
When the remains of the last Tsar of All the Russias, Nicholas II, and some of his family were found down a disused mineshaft outside Yekaterinburg in the 1990s, the government of Boris Yeltsin held a full state funeral in the cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in St Petersburg. I believe we should do something similar for Richard III, if these bones are his.
I know that would be controversial. Even the Richard III Society, which does much nationally and internationally to try to make the case for the last Plantagenet, has a section on its website devoted to the subject of “reputation management”.
The most gifted PR man would find rehabilitating Richard a bit of a struggle, even after all these years.
Yet the key to his story is one of the oldest clichés of all: That history is written by the victors.
By losing the Wars of the Roses, the internecine struggle over 30 years between the Lancastrian and Yorkist branches of the Plantagenet dynasty that had already seen the death of the Lancastrian Henry VI, Richard has been at a massive disadvantage.
His brother, Edward IV, died unexpectedly in 1483. Richard was made Lord Protector with charge of his two nephews: The young Edward V, aged 12, and his nine-year old brother, Richard, Duke of York.
This was a period of massive instability in English history, with plots, and plots within plots, by Plantagenets and their hangers-on who sought to seize power. No sooner had Richard become Lord Protector than the young King’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, sought to interfere in matters of state. Worse, other of her relations apparently sought to have Richard killed.
This may have been because they had heard a rumour that Elizabeth’s marriage to Edward IV was bigamous. Indeed, the Bishop of Bath and Wells himself told Richard that he had previously married Edward IV to a noblewoman called Jane Butler, which rendered Edward V and his brother bastards, and ineligible to succeed.
Parliament believed the Bishop, and passed an Act endorsing the rightful succession of Richard to the throne. Unhelpfully, the two boys, whom Richard had already put in the Tower of London for their own protection because of the atmosphere of plotting, disappeared.
That was in the summer of 1483. By Christmas, rumours were swirling around London that Richard had had both boys murdered, just in case anyone tried to dispute his rights and sought to put young Edward back on the throne.
This is the greatest stain on his character. The only problem, however, is that no one can prove anything.
In 1502 a courtier, Sir James Tyrrell, allegedly confessed that he had killed the children. Some chroniclers claimed Tyrrell had two “agents” do the wicked deed for him. But we await proof that Richard ordered their murder.
Richard’s problem was that he was thought to have form. He had had members of the Woodville clan executed for treason: But to be fair to him, in the climate of the times, that was par for the course when a plot was uncovered. He is also accused of arranging the execution for treason of his brother George, Duke of Clarence in 1478, but that seems to have been the work of Edward IV.
Once he had defeated Richard at Bosworth, Henry Tudor – now Henry VII – accused Richard of being responsible for the “shedding of infants’ blood”.
By the 1570s, when Raphael Holinshed published his chronicles of the period, he accused Richard outright of the murders.
This provoked the most famous act of propaganda against him. William Shakespeare plagiarised Holinshed for his history plays in the 1590s, and they reached their climax in his account of Richard’s fall.
Writing during the reign of Elizabeth I, who ruled as an absolute monarch, the Bard’s celebration of the defeat of the Machiavellian usurper by a righteous Tudor was music to his monarch’s ears.
As well as having one of the most famous opening lines in literature – “Now is the winter of our discontent” – Shakespeare’s Richard III vilifies the king from end to grisly end. His references to “mine own deformity” seal his portrayal as a sinister hunchback.
And lines such as “I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days”, and “I rather hate myself/for hateful deeds committed by myself./I am a villain” condemn the man as an out-and-out rotter.
Yet there was much more to Richard than Shakespeare the pro-Tudor propagandist revealed. In fact, he had been a popular governor of his brother’s northern provinces during the reign of Edward IV.
In 1482 he won Berwick-upon-Tweed back from the Scots, the last time it changed hands. As King, he began the procedure by which those too poor to afford to be legally represented were able to have their grievances heard.
He also introduced bail into English justice. And he was an early defender of freedom of the Press – outlawing restrictions on the printing and sale of books.
By the time of his reign the Plantagenets had ruled for 330 years. And even Henry Tudor’s own tame historian, Polydore Vergil, could not deny that Richard died like a hero in battle: He wrote that “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.”
Henry VII was distantly related to Edward III, but was descended from a bastard of Gaunt. This meant his claim to the throne was less than that of the man he deposed. Alert to this, he promised to marry Elizabeth of York, sister of the princes in the tower.
Although distantly of French descent, Richard III was really the last English king. The Tudors were Welsh. They were followed by Scots and Germans.
Given the case against Richard III is far from proven, but there is much that we know of the good he did in a turbulent age, he deserves, with due ceremony, a decent burial. - Daily Mail