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Richard III

"In this Work when it shall be found that
much is omitted, let it not be forgotten
that much likewise is performed."

"It is necessary for a prince who wishes to survive to know how to do wrong."

Engraved likeness of Richard III
Classical theatre's most blatant villian.
A Book Containing the True Portraiture of the Countenances and Attires of the Kings of England 1597

Shakespeare drew extensively on the second edition of Raphael Holinshed's
Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland.(1587)

Second Volume of Holinshed's

This edition combines the notoriously negative treatments of Richard III by More, Hall, Grafton and Holinshed himself. It is largely from the latter source that Shakespeare developed his description of Richard and what "Shakespeare did for a monarch, it is very hard to undo."

Title page of the first edition of Shakespeare's Richard III

The play was first performed to the backdrop of growing uncertainty in England. Given Elizabeth's inabiltiy to have a child, there was real concern over the future of the English crown. Though softened and sanitized a bit by assiduous researchers, Richard III, the crook-backed, malicious, wrathful, envious nasty character, still limps relentlessly through the public imagination. Physically deformed and by his own word, "subtle, false and treacherous," Richard III is one of Shakespeare's greatest villains.

"Lo, ye all Englishmen, see ye not what a mischief here was?"
Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur

"He left such a reputation behind him, that even his birth was said to have proclaimed him a monster."
James Gairdrer, History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third.

The two years following the death of Edward IV are thought to be the most mysterious in English history. Differing tales told at the time make it difficult to decide which reports on the royals' reputations to believe - Richard III's or Henry VII's.

Edward IV died in April 1483. He was survived by two young sons and several daughters. The older boy became Edward V and during his minority, the obvious choice to be his regent was his uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester. The Council made Richard 'Protector of the Realm and of the King' with absolute power.

Richard feared that the country under a monarch who was a minor would fall prey once more to internal wars.

"Woe is that realm that has a child to their King."

Acting, therefore, "for reasons of state," Richard decided to have Edward and his brother confined to the Tower for their protection and then to prevent civil strife, made himself king until Edward came of age. There was nothing sinister about the transfer of the boys to the Tower, for at the time the Tower was still a palace, a refuge of the court in times of danger. It was a royal residence with many luxurious apartments as well as a prison.

Richard's reign began with much gaiety. The King and his wife travelled by state barge along the Thames to to the Tower's royal residence from which by tradition Kings and Queens of England rode to their Coronation. Fixed for July 6, its pageants and processions diverted an uneasy public. It was attended by the greatest lords and ladies in the land and considered the most magnificent of the century. From Westminster Hall, Richard and Queen Anne, walked barefoot to Westminster Abbey for a most impressive ceremony. At the high altar, Richard stripped to the waist and was anointed with chrism. Then clothed in cloth-of-gold, he was crowned by a cardinal. The happy couple returned to Westminster Hall for a lavish coronation banquet attended by hundreds of peers of the realm.

Richard III and his Queen Anne Neville

Richard III's Great Seal
Richard by the Grace of God King of England and France and Lord of Ireland

The Great Seal was delivered to Richard at Nottingham on 11 August, the same day he received word that the Earl of Richmond had landed in England and was marching towards him with an army. His personal motto was, Loyaulte me lie (Loyalty binds me)

Richard III's Badge

His full Plantagenet regalia included the white boar crest and his badge invited unflattering references to snouts and horned beasts.

Despite whispered warnings, there was nothing to indicate that Richard coveted his brother's throne. He had served his brother, Edward IV, faithfully and well in a major ministry and had dedicated himself to making life better for the people. His assumption of the throne was not premeditated. Richard's reputation as a brave and courageous knight was well known and it was widely believed he would make a good king.

Following uprisings which he quickly suppressed, he commenced to implement a series of enlightened reforms that included reviving the power of Parliament. The country seemed satisfied with their monarch, still it is recorded that some citzens remained sullen throughout the land and nothing he did availed him of their favour.

During Richard's two-year reign, he suffered personal tragedies. His only son, eleven-year old Edward, died at Middleham Castle on the 9th April 1484, followed the next year by his 28-year old wife. The loss of his son weakened his status as sovereign, for power passed to a son saved the country much confusion and conflict. Meanwhile, his major adversary, Richmond Tudor, had embarked from Barfleur on August 1st with Englishmen - Yorkist as well as Lancastrian - and some French troops and landed at Milford Haven on 7th of August. The fight for the crown was about to begin.

Surviving accounts of this period were largely written under the Tudors and not unnaturally tended to influence those highly opinioned monarchs. With one's neck and one's notables at stake, complimentary comments were the better part of valour. Some claim, however, that the people formed their convictions two years before the Tudors took control, when all men's lips demanded liberation of the princes.

Reports of Richard's reign reflect this highly prejudiced point of view. Foremost among the naysayers was Sir Thomas More, for Richard's reputation rests largely on the biography he wrote, The History of King Richard the Third. More did not intend his work as a history (it was named after his death) but as a homily, a sermon to indicate the archetypal tyrant, a personification of vice, not a faithful portrait.

Sir Thomas More's Head in Family Vault, St. Dunstan's Church, Canterbury.

A modern statue of Sir Thomas More in Chelsea, London, where he lived.

More forewarned his readers. "It is therefore somewhat to show you ere we further go, what manner of man this was that could find in his heart so much mischief to conceive. Now fell there mischiefs thick. Where his advantage grew, he spared no man's death whose life withstood his purpose. Where he went abroad, his eyes whirled about, his body secretly armoured, his hand ever on his dagger."

More described Richard as "close and secret, a deep dissembler, humble in expression and arrogant in his heart, outwardly friendly, but inwardly not hesitating to kiss whom he meant to kill."

His dark tale tells of a man so driven by passion to be king, that he committed all manner of mayhem including murder, the most heinous being the killing in the Tower by "the wickedest uncle of all time," of Edward V, age 12 and his 9-year old brother, Richard, Duke of York.

William Shakespeare chose to make More's morbid tale the basis for his play, Richard III. He crafted this creature, a misshapen caricature of tyranny, a malevolent hunchback craving the crown, slinking about the stage. After four centuries, this is the villainous view of Richard we have imbibed from Shakespeare's play.

Tudor historians claimed that Richard declared his nephews to be illegitimate, persuaded Parliament to accept this as fact and had the two boys killed. Richard's defenders point to his loyalty to his brother and the unlikelihood he would betray his trust by having his sons murdered.

More wrote that after their murder, Richard's troubled conscience made him anxious and fearful. "His eyes whirled about, his hand ever upon his dagger, his countenance and manner like one always ready to strike again, so was his restless heart continally tossed and tumbled with tedious impression and stormy remembrance of his abominable deed."

Henry Tudor's own claim to the throne was a weak one at best. It was charged that when he found the two boys in the Tower, he feared he would lose the crown and had them killed. Nonsense some said. "Are we led to believe they languished in the Tower for two years until found there by Henry VII, who had them 'done to death'."

The Two Princes - Richard & Edward V in the Tower
[John Everett Millais,1878]
Royal Holloway picture collection.

The Great Chronicle of London reported that the two brothers had been seen on a number of occasions, "shooting and playing in the garden of the Tower." It is thought they were moved twice, first to the Garden Tower and then into the White Tower in which state prisoners were held. They had disappeared for good by the time Richard was crowned. They were not seen again after July 1483. Time passed and rumours circulated that the boys had been killed, smothered with their own pillows as they slept.

Their bodies were never found. Nearly two hundred years later during alterations in the Tower in 1674, two skeletons were discovered, which were thought to be the brothers. King Charles II ordered them interred with all honours in Westminster Abbey.

Veiled by the silence of the centuries, "the truth will never be known" about their killer.

A white marble sarcophagus to house the bones was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and made by Joshua Marshall. This is in the north aisle of Henry VIIís chapel, near Elizabeth Iís tomb.

Princes' Tomb

The Latin inscription (written in 1678) can be translated:

"Here lie the relics of Edward V, King of England, and Richard, Duke of York. These brothers being confined in the Tower of London, and there stifled with pillows, were privately and meanly buried, by the order of their perfidious uncle Richard the Usurper; whose bones, long enquired after and wished for, after 191 years in the rubbish of the stairs (those lately leading to the Chapel of the White Tower) were on the 17th day of July 1674, by undoubted proofs discovered, being buried deep in that place. Charles II, a most compassionate prince, pitying their severe fate, ordered these unhappy Princes to be laid amongst the monuments of their predecessors, 1678, in the 30th year of his reign."

King Richard III
Loyaulte me lie,
"Loyalty binds me"
From a sixteenth-century copy of a lost original
Royal Collection, Windsor

This face has had a curious effect on some. A novelist said it showed great responsibility and authority. Another thought it revealed a worrier and a person who suffered ill-health as a child. One writer thought the face showed "remakable intellectual beauty." The eyes, said an admirer, "are direct, earnest and shadowed by great care." An 18th century doctor said it reminded him of Lorenzo de Medici.

Lorenzo de Medici

Richard's Signature as King

Richard III, possibly when still Duke of Gloucester. A copy c. 1520 of a lost original.
The Society of Antiquaries of London.

This painting is an early 16th century copy of a lost original and is the earliest surviving likeness. Richard looks in the opposite direction to the better known one above and also shows him fiddling with his ring, a charateristic habit. There is no sign of deformity in either of these paintings. Richard's face was thought by some to indicate a forceful, merciless person.

Nottingham Castle
Richard's Command Centre

Nottingham Castle is an earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded in 1067 by William the Conqueror. In 1170, King Henry II, founded the stone castle, when making the site the principal royal fortress in the Midlands. The only surviving medieval remains of the upper bailey is Mortimer's Hole, a passage which leads to the base of the rock. In the middle bailey are the foundations of the Black Tower, King Richard's Tower and traces of the bailey curtain wall and ditch. It is located in a commanding position on a natural promontory known as "'Castle Rock'", with cliffs 130 feet (40 m) high to the south and west. In the Middle Ages it was a major royal fortress and occasional royal residence. In decline by the 16th century, it was largely demolished in 1649, but sufficient fragments remain to give an impression of the layout of the site. A ducal mansion later occupied the summit of the promontory. This was burnt out by rioters in 1831, and later adapted as an art gallery and museum, which remains in use today.

On 19 August Richard marched down the hill from Nottingham Castle and set out to rid the country of Richmond. Many stayed abed that day, no doubt mindful of the menacing message of terror inspired by the King's threats, preserved in this bit from the ballad of Bosworth Feilde.

"Ladies "well-aday" shall cry,
Widows shall weep and their hands wring;
Many a man shall regret the day
That ever they rose against their King."

Richard's end came on 22 August, 1485 at a place called Bosworth Field, site of the most famous battle of the War of the Roses.

Earlier this year, 6 July 2010, archeologists uncovered a perfectly preserved 1.5-inch silver badge, thought to be from a knight in Richard's retinue, who rode with him to his death on that last charge. After 500 years, it has pinpointed the exact site of the fight which decided the Wars of the Roses, a mile from where historians had believed it took place.

Recently confirmed site of the battlefield, towards Fenn Lane, beyond the treeline in the mid-ground, just glimpsed through the trees.

Richard was the last English king to die in battle. Only 5 feet 4 inches tall, this hardened, courageous veteran of a great many bloody fights, entered the fray that day frowning. His ghastly features were grey, more leaden than usual. Although urged by his men not to wear anything that would immediately identify him, Richard wore a light-weight crown over his iron helmet to symbolize the fight was to defend it, as if to say, today will mark the end or the beginning of my reign.

Battle Axe or 'battle hammer' of the type probably used so effectively by Richard at Bosworth
Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery

Never one to hesitate, Richard decided to make straight for his target Richmond - Henry Tudor. Killing him would keep the crown and settle forever, the bloody feud between Lancaster and York. Astride his great white courser with sword, the tool of his trade in hand, Richard charged.

"A King of England rides forth to war."
(Note the Crown!)
c.1480 City of Bristol Record Office

For a moment it seemed as though his impromptu tactic would turn the tide and see his enterprise crowned with success.

The Charge of Richard III and His Knights

However, after archery and cannonade and the lines were locked in battle, thoughts of victory vanished, Richard's forces failed him and a ring of steel closed about the king. His alienated allies refused to support their sovereign. The Earl of Northumberland commanding Richard's left stood idle at a distance, watching and waiting. Lord Stanley's troops "in coats as red as blood" fought, but for his foe.

Disdainful of doubt and danger, Richard hurled himself into the thickest of the fray, slashing and gashing all and sundry, but finally falling under the onslaught. Anguished, beaten and battered, Richard bellowed as he fell mortally wounded, "Treachery, treachery!"

One foot I will never flee, while the breath is my breast within
As he said, so did it he - if he lost his life he died a king.

The crumpled crown was picked from a bush and placed on the victor's head.

The King is dead. Long live the King.

Henry VII by Michiel Sittow, 1505.
The King is holding a red rose of Lancaster and wears a collar of the Golden Fleece over a cloth of gold surcoat lined with white fur.

After the battle Richard's body, stripped and slung across a horseís back like a sack of potatoes and was carried back to Leicester, passing over Bow Bridge across which Richard had ridden earlier. On Henry VIIís instructions, the naked body was exposed for two days, so that all might know for certain they were rid of Richard. He was then buried at Grey Friars' Church, Leicester, apparently without coffin, stone or epitaph, the location henceforth known to many as a place of infamy called, "the tyrants' sepulchre."

The Great Chronicle of London recorded that Richard's body, "despoiled to the skin and nought being left about him so much as to cover his privy member was trussed behind a pursuivant,"[ junior officer] and dragged as would have been done to a hog or other vile beast to a church where he was "indifferently buried".

Henry VII later donated 10 pounds for a modest marker over his rival. Made of a coloured stone, the tombstone disappeared during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Richard's bones were dug up and thrown into the River Soar and for many years, a coffin said to have been his, was used as a horses' drinking trough and was later broken up to serve as the cellar steps of the White Horse Inn.

Sic transit gloria.

York's city fathers lamented his death, bemoaning that his "murder brought great heaviness of this city." Richard was mourned in Ireland and a requiem mass is still said in Richard's birthplace, Middleham, on the anniversary of his death.

Defenders of this much-maligned monarch argue not only was he a distinguished soldier and administrator and a loyal servant of his brother, Edward IV, but also that the murderer of the boys has never been known for certain and problably never will be. There are those who believe Richard has been unjustly denigrated and latter-day historians have tried to redress the balance. He was not a humpback, but did have a withered left arm. In fact, he was remembered as being, "the handsomest man in the room - very well made." He was generous, loyal and much loved.

A Richard III Society has even been formed with branches in various English-speaking countries, dedicated to the reassessment of Richard's life and reign.

"The purpose and indeed the strength of the Richard III Society derive from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies - a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for."

The Richard III Society

"After 500 years, King Ricahrd is still getting bad press and for us it is time to set the record straight."

So states the Mandate of the Toronto-based Richard III Society of Canada.

To defend Richard
"as a courageous, loyal and honourable man."

"The Richard III Society does not serve to make a martyr of a long-dead king. Rather the Society is to winnow kernels of truth from the chaff of rumour and hearsay, to find a reliable foundation of history upon which to build our understanding of our past, present and future. "

The Society annually celebrates Richard's memorial day, 22 August 1485, the date when he was slain defending his kingdom at the Battle of Bosworth. Had he won here, the tenor of ensuing summaries would have been very different.

Loyaulte me lie
Loyalty Binds Me

As to the truth of it all:
Only The Shadow Knows

Fast forward 2012.

Richard III Burial Site?

Tile from Greyriar's Church

Portion of Window from Greyfriar's Church

Richard III's resting place?

A team from the University of Leicester said Wednesday the bones of Richard III were beneath the site of the Greyfriars Church in Leicester, central England, where contemporary accounts say Richard was buried following his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Archeologists searching for the grave of King Richard III say they have found bones that are consistent with the 15th-century monarch's physical abnormality and of a man who died in battle. /They said the skeleton was apparently of an adult male and in good condition. There were signs of trauma to the skull shortly before death, perhaps from a bladed instrument, and a barbed metal arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the upper back. "The individual we have discovered was plainly strong and active despite his disability, indeed it seems likely that he died in battle," Foxhall said.


Richard Buckley, co-director of the university's Archeological Services, said the bones are a "prime candidate" to be Richard's. "A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull. We also believe that the individual would have had severe scoliosis, which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder and this is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard's appearance. The crooked spine of a long-dead warrior, complete with an arrow in its back and a gash across its skull, was found on the site of the Grey Friars church, where King Richard III is thought to have been buried in 1485 after losing his throne and his life at the battle of Bosworth Field.The remains are now being examined and the team hopes that DNA can be recovered to aid identification."This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive, further detailed examination."

William Shakespeare, writing more than a century after Richard's death, described the king as "deform'd, unfinished," a monster with a deformed conscience who murdered his nephews in the Tower of London in order to gain the throne. The murder charge is a matter of historical dispute. The official royal website says the young princes "disappeared" while under Richard's protection.

Richard, the last English king to die in battle, was buried "without any pompe or solemne funeral" by the Franciscan monks of Greyfriars. There is a record that King Henry VII, the victor at Bosworth Field, commissioned a memorial for Richard's grave in the choir, or eastern portion of the Greyfriars Church about 1495.Although the records pointed to a grave in Leicester, 160 kilometres north of London, the church was suppressed in 1538 after King Henry VIII abolished the monasteries and its location was long forgotten.Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, visited the area in 1612 and saw a stone pillar erected in a garden on the site which was inscribed "Here lies the body of Richard III." There were tales, still repeated on the British royal site, that Richard's bones were dug up and scattered during the Reformation.

Earlier, the university identified a direct descendant of Richard's elder sister, a Canadian, a 17th great grand-nephew and obtained a DNA swab for possible matching with any bones found at the siteAmong means available are swabs taken from a London furniture-maker, 55-year-old Michael Ibsen, whose late mother was identified some years ago as a 16th-generation descendant of the king by John Ashdown-Hill, a historian, genealogist and biographer of Richard III who is also part of the Leicester project.DNA analysis might confirm match.

Buckley and his team identified a possible location of the grave through map regression analysis, starting with a current map and analyzing earlier maps to discover what had changed and not changed. Ground penetrating radar was employed to find the best places to start digging.The Leicester team began excavating in a parking lot last month. Within a week they located thick walls and the remains of tiled floors..His remains are one of only two sets definitely lost in the history of the British monarchy, the other being those of the exiled James II, which vanished from the chapel of the English Benedictines in Paris during the French Revolution.

Richard III, the great villain of English history, is due a makeover. The discovery of a skeleton under a Leicester car park has reignited interest in the maligned monarch., Saturday 15 September 2012

To the headline writers, he's become "the king in the car park". To Shakespeare, he was the "bottled spider". But 527 years after he died on Bosworth Field, he has become part of the national conversation again. Somewhere between a Mondeo monarch and a pantomime villain lies the figure of Richard III, one of the most disputed kings in British history.A thrilling palimpsest of folklore, drama, archaeology and Tudor propaganda means that we will probably never begin to approach the truth about the reign and character of the man Shakespeare painted as "rudely stamp'dÖ deformed, unfinish'd". A monster of sadism, duplicity and cunning, much worse than bad king John, more cruel than Henry VIII and less fit than Charles I for the English throne, Richard III is by far the most reviled entry in a catalogue of sovereigns not exactly renowned for their grace, distinction, or humanity.

Shakespeare has a line for that, too, from Mark Anthony's celebrated eulogy for the assassinated Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones." The sensational find of the Grey Friars skeleton in Leicester last week, grippingly replete with evidence of severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), has reanimated an old English argument about the last of the Plantagenets. Various commentators, rallying to the royal standard like trusty housecarls, have focused on the DNA angle. Conclusively identify the remains, goes the argument, and a process of regal restoration and rehabilitation can finally begin. For these inky royalists, the Queen's intervention in this saga cannot come soon enough.


It must be a long shot. Even the most casual enumeration of the competing plot lines, braided into the breaking news of the Leicester bones, throws up several archetypal tales that condemn Richard to a kind of narrative hell. The DNA evidence would have to link the notorious hunchback to Joseph of Arimathea to reverse the negative momentum of these stories.

First, and most sobering, there's the historical record: the chilling tale of a deposed tyrant. It's part of Richard's enduring appeal that he is not unambiguously corrupt. The Richard III Society, which sponsored the excavations in Leicester, points to the king's record as a wise educator and a brave soldier. Nevertheless, his brief reign (1483-1485) was terminated by a spectacular military rebellion conducted by a Welshman, leading a motley force of Scottish, French and exiled English soldiers. Losing that war became the first step to losing his historical reputation. Here, too, his story is archetypal. In the best English tradition, by all accounts, Richard seems to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. When Richard's army met the forces of Henry Tudor at Bosworth field on 22 August 1485, the king's men seriously outnumbered the enemy. Richard rode to battle in some pomp, but the king's confidence betrayed him. He charged with his cavalry deep into enemy lines, overpowered the Tudor standard bearer and was about to kill Henry when he was surrounded, cut off, and slaughtered in the thick of fierce fighting.

Shakespeare has him, on foot, calling "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." What seems to have happened, from conflicting eyewitness accounts, was that his white charger became mired in heavy ground. Richard, immobilised at bay, was felled by a Welshman's poleaxe. His naked body was thrown across a horse and publicly displayed for three days so that the English people could see that the hated tyrant was dead.

Later, he was buried in the choir of the church of the Grey Friars, the site of the recent archaeology. Henry Tudor, meanwhile, was crowned on the battlefield. According to legend, his crown was rescued from the hawthorn where it had fallen.

Richard was the last English king to fight and die on the battlefield. The end of both the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty was a turning point in English history. For these reasons alone, Richard III has a special place in the national myth. What follows, however, was sheer propaganda. Contrary to popular opinion, this came not from Shakespeare but from the pen of the saintly Thomas More.

The History of King Richard III was a hatchet job designed to explore the nature of power, leading to tyranny, and the sin that made such despotism possible. In More's account, Richard is accursed and unnatural, a parricide who broke all ties of kinship, like the figure of Vice in a morality play. An avuncular protector who was not a protector, a plotter and a killer, More's Richard contrives the murder of his nephews (Edward V and Richard of York), the princes in the tower. More, a loyal Tudor servant, had no interest in an impartial history. He wanted to present a narrative of evil with the hunchback king as a secular Satan.

It was More's Richard that caught Shakespeare's eye, the version he put on stage in his stunningly theatrical characterisation of the "poisonous hunchbacked toad". The young Shakespeare revelled in his dramatic powers. An ordinary chronicle play, routine propaganda, became a star vehicle for a great actor, initially Richard Burbage. It was also Shakespeare's genius to transform the king into a sinister comic performer, a character audiences will love and loathe. But there's no mistaking the playwright's loyalties. This is the victor's history, a version of events calculated to legitimise the reign of the founding Tudor, Henry VII.

Scene after scene accumulates into a complex, unforgettable portrait of villainy, in which even the hero participates. "Oh no, alas," says the king in act five, during a rare moment of remorse, "I rather hate myself/ For hateful deeds committed by myself. I am a villain." Then, even Shakespeare recoils from that line. "Yet I lie," Richard continues, "I am not [a villain]."

More's history is forgotten now. Shakespeare's devastating script lives on in a succession of great performances, from Garrick and Kean to Olivier and McKellen, and now Mark Rylance's brilliant interpretation at the Globe. Our rhetorical landscape is deeply coloured by the language of the play: "Now is the winter of our discontent"; "Was ever woman in this humour wooed?"; "The king's name is a tower of strength"; and "Seem a saint when I most play the devil". No wonder Hollywood returns again and again to this seam of theatrical gold.

The next archetypal narrative colouring Richard's reputation might be summarised as "the lovely bones", a subject of special interest to nerds and anoraks. Not only do we have the bones of Leicester for DNA testing, but we can also return to two skeletons buried in Westminster Abbey. These are not innocent remains, but thought to be the "princes in the tower"

So far, the Queen has resisted granting permission for the scientific scrutiny of these relics. But now that the Leicester bones are on their way to the laboratory, she may want to rescind this prohibition. There is the very real prospect that two royal mysteries the identity of the little princes and the identity of their vicious uncle will be cleared up simultaneously. From here, perhaps, it's a short step to the most promising pro-Richard narrative line: the rehabilitation of Crookback Dick.

The classic statement of this revisionist account which must still concede the old accusations of infamy is Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time. The author of the Alan Grant mysteries (A Shilling For Candles; The Singing Sands) puts her hero in hospital and has him cross-examining the documentary record to uncover "the historical truth" about Richard, stripping away the accumulation of lies and misrepresentation to the point where he can be declared innocent of the deaths in the tower.

So this, perhaps, is the redemptive, archetypal version that might be available to the British public soon: "The Return of the King" his bones triumphantly verified and acknowledged, a new tomb, probably in Leicester, and another royal shrine for the British tourist trade. As in the best dramas, we're now held in suspense, awaiting the closing act. The DNA testing will take about 12 weeks, apparently. Some time before Christmas, science will deliver its verdict. The king's bones may yet become a secular relic, an object of national veneration. Shakespeare, for one, would relish the irony.


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