Monday, 4 February 2013

The Tale of King Richard...

With Leicester University's announcement that the human remains discovered in a carpark in September 2012 are in fact those of Richard III, it only seems right I should blog about him!

Richard was born on 2nd October 1452 at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire.  He was the youngest child of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and Cecily Neville. During his early years Richard was housed at Middleham Castle, Wensleydale; here he was under the tutelage of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, who was also his cousin.  He seemed to flourish in the environment and developed friendships, it is also where he first met Anne Neville, but we will come back to that later.

At the tender age of 8 Richard's father and older brother, Edmund, Earl of Rutland both died during the Battle of Wakefield.  He and another elder brother George, later Duke of Clarance, were sent to the Low Countries where they remained until the end of the Battle of Towton and the Coronation of their Eldest brother Edward IV in 1461.  By now Richard had his own titles, despite being 9 he was named Duke of Gloucester, became a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath.  He then returned to Middleham Castle to undertake training as a knight, where he stayed until he was 12.

Throughout his young life the Wars of the Roses raged and he played his part, King Edward made him the Commissioner of Array for the Western Counties at 11 and by 17 he had taken full command.  At the age of 18 he had fled once more, this time with his brother and King, to the Low Countries and later Burgandy.  1470 was the year and Richard Neville, the man that arguably raised him was the cause, he changed his political alleigances.  This was a common occurance during the period, but, in this instance unexpected.  Richard and his brother returned, he played an active role in the Battle of Barnet and the Battle of Tewkesbury and Edward IV was back on the throne by spring 1471.

It is following the vicotory at the Battle of Tewkesbury that Anne Neville returns to the tale, her husband was Edward of Westminster and son of Henry VI.  He lost his life during the battle and she and Richard were soon to marry.  This was not a straightforward affair either and his brother George disapproved of the match.  This was purely financial, he was married to Anne's sister Isabel, being the only children they were to share an inheritance that George was keen to recieve.  It is said the Richard signed a pre-nuptual agreement before marrying Anne in York on 12th July 1472.

Richard and Anne had a child in 1473, Edward of Middleham, he would go on to become the Prince of Wales.  Richard also acknowledged two illegitamate children, a son, John of Glouster and a daughter Katherine who went on to marry William Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke.

Life took another dramatic turn for Richard, on 9th April 1483 his brother, King Edward IV died, the cause of his death is unknown, but pneumonia and typoid are often suggested, as is poison.  By 1483, the Lancastrian line was desimated and he ruled in peace, Henry Tudor was the only one left and he lived in exile, suggesting natural causes may have been more likely.

His death meant that his heir Edward V was to take the throne, however Edward was only 12.  This is too young to rule the land and Richard was named Lord Protector, to ensure that things went in the interest of himself and his family Richard moved to London to be with the young King and minimise the influence that his mother's family had over him and his rule. 

This is where it gets messy and Richard is painted in a far from pleasant manner.  Many were arrested and taken to Pontefract Castle, they were accused of plotting to assassinate Richard and subsequently sentenced to death.  After this Richard moved the young King and his brother, also called Richard, though this time Duke of York, to the Tower of London.  Shortly after it is said that clergymen approach Richard and tell him that his brother's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was unvalid as Edward had earlier relations with Eleanor Butler.  In short this meant that the young King and his younger brother were illegitemate and as such neither could take the throne.  On the 22nd June 1483 this was declared in a sermon outside St Paul;s Cathederal and Richard was declared the rightful heir to the throne.  On 26th June Richard accepted throne and his corronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 6th July 1483.

This is where the Princes disappear, they are never seen and are often said to have been murdered by Richard.  There is little direct evidence for this, in 1674 the remains of two children are discovered in the White Tower when King Charles II does a spot of redecorating.  He believes them to be the little Princes and has them buried at Westminster Abbey.  The tale is still told at the Tower of London and their ghosts are said to still walk the Tower.

Rumours of the princely deaths was bad news for the now King Richar III, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham had plenty of things to say.  Mainly that Henry Tudor should be brought out of exhile, handed the throne and Elizabeth of York's hand in marriage; Elizabeth was the elder sister of the princes.  Henry Stafford was prepared to raise an army from his estates within Wales and the Marches.  All was set to happen, Henry Tudor was on his way, with the support of the Breton prime-minister and Stafford was organised, then the weather turned, Henry Tudor had to turn back and when faced with Richard III's army his men deserted.  Richard had a heavy prince of Stafford's head and one of 'his men' happily turned him in for the reward.  He was charged with treason and later beheaded in Salisbury.

The threat of Henry Tudor was not quashed, he built up an army in France and by the summer of 1485  he was ready for battle once more.  This time he landed in Pembroke, his birth town and as he travelled through Wales and the Marches he once more gathered support and increased his invasion force.

King Richard III and Henry Tudor finally met on 22nd August 1485 at Bosworth Field.  Richard is said to have had 8,000 men while Henry only had 5,000, the exact numbers will never really be known.  As the Battle raged it is thought that many of Richard's supporters deserted him and joined Henry's cause.  This is said to have caused Richard to lead a cavalry charge, killing Henry's standard bearer and coming within reach of Henry.  However, the once loyal Stanley's surrounded him and famously killed him in the field.  It is said that Richard had fought bravely that day, but, the outcome was death, with the Burgundian chronicaler Jean Molinet claiming that it was a Welshman that dealt the fatal blow, with a halberd.  He claimed the violence was so much that the King's helmet was driven into his skull.  It said that he was then buried in Greyfriars Church, Leicester and that in 1495 the then King Henry VII paid for a stone monument to mark the spot of his burial, it is later meant to have been destroyed and the resting place of Richard III lost.

This was all to change in September 2012, Leicester University conducted an excavation in what is now a carpark, this discovered a grave with the remains of an individual within it.  Much like Richard the skeleton showed a curved spine and visible trauma to the skull.  With the location and the characteristics speculation was immediate and the archaeological world was excited by the find.  Since then Leicester Uni and a hugely talented team have conducted various tests and studied the remains closely.  Today they announced that beyond resonable doubt they believe they have in fact found the remains of King Richard III of England.

Radiocarbon dates have placed the remains within the period 1455-1540, Dr Jo Appleby has conducted oesteology studies and is confident that they are the remains of a male, in his late 20's or early 30's; Richard was 32.  He had also suffered many injuries, 8 were to the skull and 2 had the potential to be fatal, all occurred near to or at the time of death.  One such wound was created by a blade that plunged some 10cm into his skull, Dr Appleby concludes that if this had gone 7cm into the brain he would have died instantly. 

Some of his injuries are thought to have occurred after his death, in a routine of humiliation and dissent, one of which created a pelvic injury.  This is thought to have been caused through a weapon being thrust through the buttock. 

The Tudors often describe him as being deformed, the skeleton clearly reveals that he suffered from scoliosis, but there is little to say that he suffered with other described ailments.

His grave was poorly cut, the sides were too short and the head was forced forwards; suggestive that it was either done at speed or without care.  The arms were crossed, which is unusual and could indicate that they remained bound.  The church itself was destroyed during the Reformation, however, local enthusiasts located the area that it would have been in and also located documented relations of Richard's.  This was crucial for DNA and a gentlemen from Canada, Michael Ibsen, carries the matriarchal gene, passed from mother to child.  The timing of the discovery is lucky, Joy, Michael's mother has sadly passed away and her daughter has had no children, meaning the line is about to come to a natural end.  A DNA sample was taken from the teeth of the skeleton and it was hoped it would have survived well enough for analysis.  Thankfully it has and was tested against samples provided by Michael and found by Dr Turi King to be a match.

With the church no longer in place, Richard III's remains cannot be reburied there.  As such a tomb will be prepared and he is likely to be reburied at Leicester Cathedral in due course.

Influential Reading

Hipshon, D. 2010 Richard III (Routledge Historical Biographies Routledge

BBC news articles and Leicester University Press Conference

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