Research: Richard III
In case you didn’t know, I’m something of a Ricardian as a result of always having been intrigued by Shakespeare’s play, which is brilliant but hardly believable as documentary evidence of anything except Tudor revisionism. My further reading led me to the conclusion that history’s Richard was hard done by.
Whatever his real faults and crimes, I joyfully took up the unequivocal pro-Richard cause as a balance to all the Tricky Dicky hate that’s out there.
I’ve written a couple of pro-Richard stories, which were published in Grant Me the Carving of My Name and have low key aims to write an alternative history one day. I have no particular plot yet, but I’ve been doing general reading and research to deepen my knowledge of complexities surrounding the War of the Roses and Richard’s short reign.
While in London recently, I did my favourite London activity, which is to read old books at the British Library.
Horace Walpole and I ♥ Richard
The first I looked at was a 1770 edition of Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, where he explores all the charges levelled against Richard Plantagenet by Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More and a host of other Tudor historians. He uses contemporary accounts and good old courtroom logic to unpack what appears to be a heap of fabrications, misreadings, malign interpretations and Tudor self-interest.
Let’s put aside the thrill of reading a book published 285 years after Richard’s death, and 195 years before my birth and marvel at Walpole noting that the only “deformity” of Richard’s noted in his lifetime was his uneven shoulders – no sign of the limp, hunch, withered arm etc attributed to him by later historians. Richard’s scoliosis was only discovered/confirmed when they found his body in 2012.
Thank you, Mr Walpole, for researching so many primary documents so that, when i finally get to writing whatever I write, I won’t have to.
Real Person Hatefic
On the opposite side to me and Walpole, though, I found the most appalling/hilarious 18th century Richard III Real Person Fanfic by an anonymous author.
Called A Dialogue Between King Richard III and his Adopted Son and published in Dublin in 1753 (good lord, I handled a 266 year old book!), it’s set in Hell, where the spirit of King Richard III greets a recent arrival, dubbed Richard IV, who tells of his journey to the underworld.
Richard IV: I fell in much love with a great sum of money that was possess’d by a young Lady, whom I heartily despised, but as one could not be had without the other, and money was very necessary to me, I condescended to marry her.
King Richard: But cou’dn’t you get the money without committing Matrimony?
Richard IV: You may swear I cou’dn’t. I tryed indeed, but the squeamish Bitch would do nothing but in a lawful way, as she call’d it.
King Richard: Then I pardon you.
Richard IV: Yes, and I hope you will do the same for two or three more Marriages.
King Richard: With all my heart, but proceed.
Young Richard IV proceeds all right, demonstrating that he’s a wastrel, bigamist, cheat, highwayman, debaucher and general nasty piece of work, to the general applause of the dead King. Well, except for when Richard Jr plotted the death of his nephew:
Richard IV: I was long in debate with myself as whether I should murder him myself or get him murdered.
King Richard: This is the only weak part of your History hitherto. How can you say you had my Character always in view? I am almost asham’d of you, you were foolishly faint-hearted.
Of course, the knave only exiled the nephew, which act of ‘faint-hearted foolishness’ comes back to bite him on the bum when the nephew returns to England.
Richard IV: It was then I cursed myself a thousand times every Hour for being so foolishly tender as not to have dispatched him at once, for Dead Men Tell No tales.
At this point in his narrative, he claims he’ll give it all up, beg for mercy and live like a gentleman. King Richard III is not amused, saying:
King Richard: I in the like case chose to die bravely in Bosworth field, sword in hand rather than quit the least of my usurpations. I fear you were a coward.
Richard IV: I own sir I had always a great tenderness for my own person and had rather at any time have taken twenty kicks on the A___ or Twicks by the Nose than run the Risk of one Poke thro’ the Guts.’
The whole thing is blackly funny where it isn’t predictably banal, and ends with King Richard adopting this arsehole as a son before they both wind up wailing piteously with their guilt over how they treated their nephews.
Even if you think Richard did half the evil things he’s accused of (and Horace Walpole and I definitely don’t) it’s a hell of a comedown for such a grand villain to be cheering on a common thief and swindler. Even Shakespeare’s Richard has more pride.
FutureLearning Medieval England
While I was in the UK a friend put me onto Future Learn, which offers some of its courses for free.
I’ve been studying England in the Time of King Richard III and learning all sorts of things about the key players in the Wars of the Roses, layers of society, the impact of the Black Death, the development of writing, and Richard’s library.
Paying my respects to Dickon
Whatever the Tudors made of the man, Richard was popular up North with his people, and since his body was discovered and he was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral in 2015. His reinterment coincided with an unexpected victory for the Leicester City football club, so the locals have become Ricardians too.
The Leicester Museum is currently showing a royal portrait of Richard, adding another Ricardian tourism spot in addition to the Richard III Centre, the Leicester Cathedral opposite where he’s now buried, and the Bosworth Battlefield just out of town.
I like to pop by one or more of those places when I’m in town, just to say hi to the only royal I give the slightest damn about.
Who knows where all this reading will one day lead – right now my aim is to fill my brain with relevant material and let it all ferment away.