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Richard III: A 21st Century Confirmation of Battlefield Accounts from 1485

February 4, 2013

 
Here is a portrait of Richard III King of England from 1483 to 1485. He looks like a fairly tough customer don’t you think? I’m not sure that I’d want to go in and ask him for a raise.
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And here is his skull, recently dug up in an English parking lot (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-21282241). I like to think that the set of the teeth also shows the same somewhat grim determination.
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There is a lot of controversy surrounding Richard III and it is not hard to see why (based on the fact that the two princes who stood in his way for succession to the English throne (he was the uncle of the princes) magically disappeared and suddenly he was the king and no longer third in line (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_III_of_England).
“When his brother Edward IV died in April 1483, Richard was named Lord Protector of the realm for Edward’s son and successor, the 12-year-old King Edward V. As the new king travelled to London from Ludlow, Richard met and escorted him to where he was lodged in the Tower of London. Edward V’s brother Richard joined him there. Arrangements began to be made for Edward’s coronation on 22 June.
However, before the young king could be crowned, Edward IV’s marriage to the boys’ mother Elizabeth Woodville was publicly declared to be invalid, making their children illegitimate and ineligible for the throne. On 25 June an assembly of lords and commoners endorsed these claims. The following day, Richard III officially began his reign. He was crowned on 6 July. The two young princes were not seen in public after August and there arose subsequently a number of accusations that the boys had been murdered by Richard, giving rise to the legend of the Princes in the Tower.”
In his play about Richard III Shakespeare leaves us in no doubt that he is a villain. It accuses him of plotting against his brother and murdering his nephews (see below).
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Perhaps justice had its way, as a scant two years after he took the throne, he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry VII of the House of Tudor took the throne. Perhaps it was all from the best (from the English perspective) as it was the Tudors which took England from something of a backwater to a naval power and a colonizer. And if nothing else, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I have made for great television.
Here is what the Wikipedia has to say about Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
“On 22 August 1485, Richard met the outnumbered forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. …The size of Richard’s army has been estimated at 8,000, Henry’s at 5,000, but exact numbers cannot be known. …Despite his apparent affiliation with Richard, Baron Stanley’s wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was Henry Tudor’s mother. The switching of sides by the Stanleys severely depleted the strength of Richard’s army and had a material effect on the outcome of the battle. Also the death of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his close companion, appears to have had a demoralising effect on Richard and his men. Perhaps in realisation of the implications of this, Richard then appears to have led an impromptu cavalry charge deep into the enemy ranks in an attempt to end the battle quickly by striking at Henry Tudor himself. Accounts note that Richard fought bravely and ably during this manoeuvre, unhorsing Sir John Cheney, a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry’s standard bearer SirWilliam Brandon and coming within a sword’s length of Henry himself before being finally surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed. The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd while Richard’s horse was stuck in the marshy ground. It was said that the blows were so violent that the king’s helmet was driven into his skull….The 2012 discovery of King Richard’s body shows that the skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting the king had lost his helmet. The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull.”
Here is the skull viewed from underneath. The hole in the middle is for the spine. The other two holes were caused by weapons the larger one most likely by a halberd and the smaller one with a sword, either of the blows could have killed him.
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Perhaps Richard was a hothead, choosing to try and personally kill his rival by charging through his army and attendants. It was certainly a brave maneuver and perhaps almost successful except that he doesn’t seem to have been adequately supported, or perhaps he just got too far ahead of his support. Either way he got isolated and surrounded and suffered an extremely violent death, apparently by men who had supposedly started the battle on his side. It seems like it was definitely a case of living by the sword and dying by the sword.
Tradition has it that Richard III was a hunchback with a withered arm. The investigators who studied his skeleton found no evidence of a withered arm, but there is clear curvature (scoliosis) of the skeleton as shown in the following image of the skeleton.
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Perhaps the most interesting lesson here is that history can be found in modern parking lots. And that much of the past still remains with us in one way or another. Maybe one also has to wonder what royalty really means when it seems to have been so much a product of chance and skulduggery, at least in former times.

 
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