“Sin, Death, and Hell have set their Marks on Him”

King Richard III 

The bones of Richard III, Shakespeare’s greatest villain and the last King of England to be killed in battle have been discovered and identified by DNA testing:

….There were cheers when Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the hunt for the king’s body, finally announced that the university team was convinced “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had found the last Plantagenet king, bent by scoliosis of the spine, and twisted further to fit into a hastily dug hole in Grey Friars church, which was slightly too small to hold his body.

But by then it was clear the evidence was overwhelming, as the scientists who carried out the DNA tests, those who created the computer-imaging technology to peer on to and into the bones in raking detail, the genealogists who found a distant descendant with matching DNA, and the academics who scoured contemporary texts for accounts of the king’s death and burial, outlined their findings.

….Richard died at Bosworth on 22 August 1485, the last English king to fall in battle, and the researchers revealed how for the first time. There was an audible intake of breath as a slide came up showing the base of his skull sliced off by one terrible blow, believed to be from a halberd, a fearsome medieval battle weapon with a razor-sharp iron axe blade weighing about two kilos, mounted on a wooden pole, which was swung at Richard at very close range. The blade probably penetrated several centimetres into his brain and, said the human bones expert Jo Appleby, he would have been unconscious at once and dead almost as soon.

The skull of Richard III

Injuries to the skeleton appear to confirm contemporary accounts that the king died in battle. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The injury appears to confirm contemporary accounts that he died in close combat in the thick of the battle and unhorsed – as in the great despairing cry Shakespeare gives him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” 

Richard III, usurper and probable regicide of his nephew the boy King, was the last truly medieval King of England. Had Richard lived to rule, his reign would have been characterized by the same bloody uprisings and civil strife that marked the War of the Roses. England was fortunate in his successor who had bested him in battle, Henry Tudor who became King Henry VII was an energetic and far seeing monarch who restored a war-wracked and bankrupt England to peace and fiscal health and set the foundations of the modern United Kingdom and the future world-spanning British Empire. It was Henry who started the Royal Navy and curtailed the ability of the nobility to wage war as they pleased with large private armies, by taxing them for each man at arms, thus ending bastard feudalism ; recalcitrant rebels were executed and justices of the peace established in every shire to enforce the law of the realm rather than the corrupt whims of manorial courts.

Richard III has his devoted fans as well his detractors. Except for his impatient ruthlessness, Richard probably was little worse, morally speaking, than his fellow medieval monarchs in an age when brutality and the rule of the strong was the norm.  However, unlike the brilliant Henry, Richard would have done little to improve the situation and might have made life in England more savagely violent.

7 comments on this post.
  1. Duncan Kinder:

    Usurper, regicide, tyrant, Machiavellian schemer, 1485.
    All of that spells Renaissance, not Medieval.

  2. joey:

    Typical Tudor propaganda! 🙂
    Seriously if he had prevailed at Bosworth field, who knows how it would have played out,  or what a King he would have made,  or what laws he would passed.   
    All I know is that the arrival of the Tudors was very bad news for my ancestors.  The mere mention of them causes me to shudder.

    Also I read he was to be given a multifaith burial,  surely he should be given a Catholic burial (In Latin to boot), England was once Catholic, though they don’t like to remember it.  

  3. zen:

    No Renaissance yet in England, though it is held to begin from start of Henry VII’s reign it took a few decades to get going culturally speaking. The Earl of Warrick (“Warrick the King-maker”, he was barred from Kingship himself due to illegitimate royal descent) was a dangerous warlord but he was no Renaissance Condotterie. Bastard feudalism and the perpetuation of psuedo-feudal traditions and retainer armies retarded that kind of cultural advancement unlike the competitive city-state warfare of the Italians. Henry VII cleared that away and revived the economy and made things safer for the wealthy and ambitious commoners to rise.
    Tudor propaganda is correct 🙂 Another modernism they introduced – Henry was an usurper too and he knew it, so he created a legend about hinmself to cement his political legitimacy and that of his heirs. If I recall correctly, Henry (or his partisans and coutiers) put forth the argument that henry’s defeat of Richard in battle amounted to divine sanction of henry’s rightful claim to the throne and Heaven’s judgment upon Richard’s perfidy.
    Agree on the Catholic thing. King Richard III was a a Catholic monarch and would have viewed Anglicanism as heresy

  4. L. C. Rees:

    The arrival of the Tudors held little threat for English Catholicism. It was the precedent of the War of the Roses that destroyed English Catholicism: Henry VIII wanted a heir that was unambiguously male with an unambiguous claim on the throne to prevent a rerun of the mid-eighteenth century. Based on his own experience, he probably wanted an heir too (Henry was the spare, becoming heir after his older brother Arthur died in 1502). His break with Rome was driven by that policy imperative. Since Henry remained Catholic in his beliefs even after he took the English Church public, his choices didn’t guarantee a Protestent victory in England. The choice of Edward VI’s advisors, the death of Bloody Mary, the survival of Elizabeth, James VI and I being raised as a Protestant from infancy after his mother Mary, Queen of Scots, fled south, and so forth helped but Protestant ascendency wasn’t assured until the Dutch Conquest of 1689. There were many opportunities for rollback: many Protestant hotbeds in Poland, Bohemia, Austria, and other unexpected later intensively Catholic places were rolled back during the Thirty Years’ War despite a century of flourishing growth. 

  5. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    You left off one of the more colorful findings of the examination.
    Apparently RIII received “humiliation wounds” post mortem, including a sword through one buttock. And was displayed nude for the public to see–I can imagine that some of the Tudor propaganda began before his death, and that in all likelihood he was probably thought of as a monster by the populace before he died as well as by his opponents.  Certainly, after the public display of his deformity, the Tudors would not have had great difficulty building up the idea of monstrosity.
    I wonder if the bones found in the Tower will now receive DNA testing.   The evidence suggests that the remains probably are those of the Princes, but I think they were reinterred without much investigation.

  6. Curtis Gale Weeks:

    Incidentally, wrt Shakespeare, am I the only one greatly irritated by the fact that actors who are much too old for various parts inevitably end up being cast for those parts?  I think their “license” actually hurts more than helps, in most cases.

  7. Franco Speroni:

    I just completed the reading “The Daughter of Time” by Josephine Tey, a very nice detective story written in 1951: It deals with a Scotland Yard detective who totally reviews the story of Richard III and his negative reputation, in spite of common knowledge and Shakespeare’s tragedy text. I recommend you to read this book, as Richard III is probably the victim of an unbelievble historical error of judgement. By the way, the conclusions the books comes to (that is, Henry VII Tudor was the true assassin and the one who induced to create the bad reputation of Richard) are already well known by historians; nevertheless, the “Urban Legend” on a bloody Richard III continues to exist.
    Now that the relics of this king have been found, maybe it is time to revise his historical figure and reputation.