The discovery of the remains of King Richard III underneath a parking lot this week, identified thanks to mitochondrial DNA from his Canadian great-great-great-etc. nephew, shows how history can twist and turn a living person.
We know a lot more about Richard than we do about almost anyone else from his time. For example, how many skeletons of anonymous ditch diggers from 500 years past are being fought over by Leicester and York?
We know where and when Richard was born, where he died and what it as that killed him. (He apparently had way too much iron in his system, mostly in the form of swords that had stabbed him in the face. Henry Tudor didn't kid around.)
But we don't know too much about his personality. What we have are two constructs between which to choose. First there is the Tudor family propaganda, ably expanded upon by Shakespeare. Richard was a piece of. something you find in a field where cows have recently spent time. He murdered his nephews, along with anyone else who got in his way. But even Shakespeare couldn't resist making Richard great.
"And therefore, - since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, - I am determined to prove a villain, and hate the idle pleasures of these days," he said. This
Richard is the smooth-talking smart guy who scrambles to the throne despite being "crookbacked" and the youngest of three brothers.
The worst of his reputation lies on the disappearance of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower.
Since the early part of the century, there's been a move to create another Richard III, claiming that he certainly didn't kill two innocent children, his own brother's children.
Let's see. he locked up the heirs to the throne and had them declared illegitimate, thus making him king. But anyone opposed to him would have good reasons to use the kiddies as figureheads of rebellion.
And then in 1483, they vanished. I'm not sure we have to call in Sherlock Holmes for this one.
Richard proclaimed his innocence, but couldn't produce the nephews. If this was a modern day case, we'd have some CSI types scraping every dungeon and keep in the Tower of London for clues, and they'd probably lead right back to Richard.
Of course, just because he was a murderous throne-stealing jackass is no reason to look down on Richard of Gloucester.
That's pretty much par for the course for medieval royalty.
In fact, the behaviour of royalty back when they had any power is much closer to the behaviour of modern day gangsters. They kill for power and prestige, and they answer to no law.
Compare Richard III to another king of England, similarly named, Richard I, aka Richard Lionheart.
He has a magnificent reputation, but he's arguably not much better than Gloucester.
For one thing, Richard III seems to have killed less people.
Richard the Lionheart fought against his own father, his brother John, and a cousin, and waged wars everywhere from France to Sicily to Cyprus to the Middle East. In fact, he doesn't seem to have been happy if he wasn't laying siege to a castle or stabbing someone.
Having left an enormous trail of corpses behind him, Richard was finally killed by an arrow fired from a castle in France. Which is appropriate, since he was French.
Really, the king who comes in second only to Alfred the Great for "most English" spoke a couple dialects of French, but hardly spent any time in England itself and never learned the language.
Matthew Claxton reports for the Langley Advance.