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A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a........Well, okay, an Apology.

Richard of York may get his due

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 06, 2013.

The skeleton of England's King Richard the Third has been found, insofar as two DNA sources, correspondence to early descriptions of grave site, analysis of the deformed spine, and injuries from weapons all falling within the years in question mean anything. I suspect they do, and this is a pretty impressive case of historic research. This young man died at 32 in battle. He was slight, and marginally crippled and probably in a great deal of pain sitting still on good days, but even his enemies said he was a brave and competent warrior. So, there is that.

He was the last of the Plantagenet rulers of England, the dynasty that started with Henry the II, the Lion in Winter, who married Eleanor of Aquitaine and fathered King Richard the Lionhearted and King John and from all this came Robin Hood and other legends appended to the Crusades and so what? It's 2013, and the Plantagenet bloom was nearly a thousand years ago. But it is of interest that the corpse of their last King has been found, and that under a parking lot, and we can note the veracity or not of certain scholars from his contemporaries and later.

History, the cliche goes, is written by the winners, and it helps when the winners have writers of some talent on their side. Shakespeare, for instance, who pretty much condemned Richard the III to the front rank of literary and historical villains. Richard the Third in the play kills his wife's father and husband, his nephews, others, and marries her by deception, to say no more. He ends betrayed on the field of battle screaming for 'a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!'

Anyone my age can remember the day that Richard the III, the movie starring Lawrence Olivier, aired on American broadcast television. It was a solemn and hallowed moment in the mid 1950's, and lots of us watched because our mothers made us watch. Black and white, low resolution television with tinny sound is not the best intro to Shakespeare or history. It worked best with Bugs Bunny cartoons. Just saying.

It wasn't generally known that Shakespeare was pretty much a hired gun for the descendents, primarily Queen Elizabeth, of Henry the VII, the guy who defeated Richard on Bosworth Field. Henry came from the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets, and Richard from the York, and the battle of Bosworth ended the War of the Roses, Lancaster red and York white. For you trivia nuts. All Tudor monarchs and their ancestors come off pretty well in Shakespeare. Even Richard II, who was murdered. But Richard III came from the other side of the ox trail, and is evil incarnate.

That said, the great crime lain at Richard the III's gimpy feet is that he murdered the Princes in the Tower. They were his nephews and had a greater claim on the crown than he did, although it's sometimes hard to understand the hereditary principle in English monarchy. Richard's brother, King Edward IV, died in April 1483, and Richard was named Lord Protector of the realm for Edward's son, the 12-year-old King Edward V to be. For his protection and that of his younger brother, Richard put them in the Tower of London. Somehow, it was discovered that their parents marriage was invalid and the children bastards, a trope that the Tudors would use a lot, ironically. Richard became King, and once in the Tower, the princes were never seen again in public. It was assumed Richard had killed them.

Maybe not. Richard was, for a King in the fifteenth century, rather progressive and far sighted. He established the procedure of bail in English courts, and addressed some of the needs of the poor. He himself suffered, and he may have had insights into humanity denied others. Between his death and Shakespeare's interest, the Tudor flunkies wrote the history of the times, and from these Shakespeare got his story, and added to it with literary license. History written solely by the winners is only true when one side can write and the other cannot. Richard has had his literate defenders from the get go, and there is much evidence that may exonerate him and condemn the Tudors.

Does it matter? No, not now. But it does suggest that in time truth might become known to those interested, for the benefit of those wronged, and a maligned soul from the days when physical deformity was seen as divine punishment might be exonerated, and our own competence and prejudices be judged anew.