Body of proof

A skeleton thought to be that of Richard III prompts reflection on the man behind the myth

Written by The Indian Express | Published: September 14, 2012 3:31 am

The comedy series,Blackadder,has its own version of the Battle of Bosworth,where Richard III,the last Plantagenet king,was killed. In the midst of battle,Edmund Blackadder tosses a severed,helmet-clad head to his sidekick Baldric,who lifts the visor,peers in and mutters,“Oh dear,Richard III”. Archaeologists digging up a car park in Leicester recently might have felt the same way. Excavations have yielded a male skeleton of considerable antiquity,with an axe-wound to the head,an arrowhead in its back and a spinal curvature that could match stories of the slain king’s “crookback”.

Nothing can be proved until DNA tests are conducted,but the discovery of the skeleton could be an occasion to revisit a figure damned by history and popular culture. After the Tudors won at Bosworth,stories proliferated of his cruelty and deformity,of how he had ousted his brothers from the throne and killed his young nephews. If anything could seal his reputation,it was Shakespeare’s play on him. For centuries,Richard III has been remembered as a bitter,scheming man who died offering to exchange his kingdom for a horse. Few British rulers have been as lavishly hated and ridiculed. Perhaps it helped that he is one of the two British monarchs whose remains were known to be lost. Richard III has lived on in history as a shadowy absence that could be filled by myths.

Yet the Tudors set down a victors’ history,and Shakespeare was writing for a Tudor monarch. Many of the stories about the last Plantagenet cannot be proved and groups like The Richard III Society have sprung up in defence of his reputation. Phillipa Langley,a playwright working on a screenplay of the king’s life,says the discovery will prompt more research on the man behind the “Tudor myth”. The next play on Richard III could be written in a very different vein.

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