by Jacqueline Dowling
In February 2013 I wrote:
So, my favourite king of all time, the last Plantagenet – Richard Crookback aka Richard 111, has been found. Three feet under, sans crown, sans horse, sans feet. Sans everything actually. The final ignominy of this discovery has surely to be the nature of the latters’ disappearance: to wit the erection in the 19th century of a privy, right over his noble remains , in the process,severing his feet.
Hall’s Croft, Stratford upon Avon: once home to Susannah Shakespeare and husband Dr John Hall. Sometime in the 20th century. The day’s visitors have left, the house quiet and filled with the gentle spirits of the past. Sitting on the top step of a creaky old staircase one evening, the casement windows open to late sunbeams and wisteria hanging heavy with honeyed scents and bees, I thought of another stair, narrow and sinister, lurking in the musty White Tower dankness of the Tower of London. And of the young princes Richard of Gloucester is reputed to have murdered and buried under those stairs.
Of Clarence too, Richard’s brother who ended up neck down in a butt of Malmesey (sans head, presumably) somewhere in the same building. History doesn’t relate how or why he died, except to say that he was imprisoned, tried and executed – and that was that.. But he was no good anyway, and probably deserved what he got.
But Richard : Imagine, at the age of twelve years, having a knight’s training forced on him; a frail, undersized young boy who suffered from scoliosis and who, throughout his formative years knew little other than constant ill health, and the threat of war between the houses of York and Lancaster. He was mentored and trained by Warwick ‘The Kingmaker’ and rode to war for his brother Edward IV , ‘The Sun in Splendour.’ Ned, seducer of Elizabeth Woodville, the greed of whose family hastened the end of Plantagenet reign in Britain. There was no place for Richard in this court of excess and corruption. He headed back to the northern moors, instructed the warlike Welsh to ‘sit and stay’ – which they did, for a while, and then, aged seventeen and still not terribly sturdy, he sorted out the rest of the dissidents. And Edward caroused on and on – why not? His youngest brother was doing a pretty good job on his own.
Richard married Ann, they had a son and, from all accounts, a loving family life when wars allowed. The French and Spanish were constant burrs under the English saddles, in addition to troubles at home. Arranged marriages didn’t help much except to strengthen France’s hold on England by marrying poor batty Henry off to Margaret of Anjou, who turned out to be even more warlike than the English. It was a bloody time indeed. Ferdinand and Isabella murdering and burning any non-Catholics in Spain, Ivan being Terrible in Russia and rumblings of discontent coming from all sides…a bit like the world today some may say.
Then, in 1470, Warwick turned Lancastrian, unseated Edward The Sun King who later died, and there was much conjecture about what had happened to Princes Edward and Richard, and where they stood in relation to the throne. That conjecture continues today. Richard 111 was crowned king and reigned for two short years. Rumours were rife that he’d had the princes murdered to ensure his accession. It was never proved. Shakespeare and I differ in opinion on Richard’s character. He had him as evil, cruel and conniving. From the sparse historical fact available I choose to believe that he was anything but evil. More a victim of time and circumstance. A fearless soldier, a loving family man who was educated and, I believe, sensitive.
Perhaps the scents of herbs in the old house mellowed my thoughts that evening; or the sense of Dr John Hall’s gentle invisible presence. But I continue to believe in Richard Plantagenet’s innocence and hope that he will finally be laid to rest in a dignified and peaceful manner.
On August 7 2014 it was announced on the BBC website that : The remains of Richard 111 will be reinterred on 26 March 2015 at Leicester Cathedral…He will be buried with the full honours due a monarch, and the service will follow as closely as possible that which should have taken place some five hundred years ago. Ah – the Brits do pageantry so well…