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February 05, 2013

Richard III

Because I cannot flatter and look fair,
Smile in men’s faces, smooth, deceive and cog,
Duck with French nods and apish courtesy,
I must be held a rancorous enemy.
Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,
But thus his simple truth must be abused
With silken, sly, insinuating jacks?

...The world is grown so bad
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.
Since every jack became a gentleman,
There’s many a gentle person made a jack.

- Richard III, William Shakespeare

The remains of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets and also the last king from the House of York, have been discovered beneath a parking lot. Oddly, a reconstruction of the King's face reveals, not the foul, hideous wretch of legend but a handsome man:

Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, at the age of 32 and after just two years on the throne, having been challenged by the forces of Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who wrote The Last Days of Richard III, said: "The most obvious features in portraits are the shape of the nose and the chin and both of those are visible in the facial reconstruction."

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley, originator of the search, said on a Channel 4 documentary earlier: "It doesn't look like the face of a tyrant. I'm sorry but it doesn't.

"He's very handsome. It's like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now."

The discovery of Richard's corpse is likely to revive a longstanding debate over the accuracy of his depiction in history. If you like historical novels (I do, greatly), you may enjoy one by Sharon Kay Penman. It's called The Sunne in Splendour. I own all of Penman's series in hardback and have read them each several times.

They are unforgettable, and I highly recommend them. From the reviews section of the Amazon page for The Sunne in Splendour:

As a publisher I have been lucky to be able to visit bookstores all over the country, independent and chain alike. What interests me first about these stores is what titles are being displayed in the 'Staff Recommends' section of the store. It is here that you can find treasured, beloved books quite dear to someone who works in the stores, someone waiting quite eagerly for the chance to hand sell their recommended titles.

It is in these Staff Recommend sections that I kept on seeing our Penman's titles, HERE BE DRAGONS, FALLS THE SHADOW, THE RECKONING and also SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR and WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT.
It's funny, you can sell something for years before you notice that the author has been quietly making a powerful impact on people everywhere.

I started with HERE BE DRAGONS and I have never looked back. Her trilogy of the decline of the Welsh kings ( DRAGON, FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING)is a holiday gift I give year after year, and I'm happy to say they have always been embraced and loved. From my 15 year old niece to my 70 year old mother and many ages in between, all readers are enchanted and transported to a land and an age gone forever. But Penman makes them live forever in our minds and hearts with fantastic, unforgettable characters and wonderful history. HERE BE DRAGONS is such a great title--medieval mapmakes would write those words across any part of the map that was unknown.. a wonderful metaphor for how little the Welsh and English knew of each other.

SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR--Warning: This is not Shakespeare's Richard III. In this novel, Richard is a victim of circumstance and man vilified by the Tudors, but here presented as a decent and normal man, a man of conscience. AND he is not a murderer. Yes, those princes did die, but not by Richard's hand.

WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT - Another wonderful title, for it refers to the 15 years of England's darkest time-the civil war between the cousins Queen Maud and King Steven. England was deserted, for Christ and his saints were sleeping. I had never even heard of these royals. Queen Maud was the legitimate heir to the throne, but a woman, and there fore not fit to rule. She is also the mother of Henry, who later married Eleanor of Aquitaine . Pretty heady stuff, more incredible men and women, another book to get totally lost in.

The blog princess is a bit of an English and Welsh history buff (yes, she is a giant dork). But if you like this sort of thing, I can promise you won't be disappointed.

Posted by Cassandra at February 5, 2013 07:01 AM

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It's to wonder how at variance were Shakespeare's kings with history's kings, and history's kings with history, and history with the winner's record of it. The bones, I think, reveal the only thing we may know about Richard as true – he had scoliosis.

Posted by: George Pal at February 5, 2013 09:04 AM

Agreed. I'm not invested in the theory that history got it all wrong wrt to Richard, but it was a great read and very well done!

Think of all the things we just *know* to be true that aren't. Bush lying us into war, for instance. Or the existence of those WMDs that it was utterly ridiculous to even talk about... until suddenly the media were worrying about whether they hadn't in fact been spirited across the border to Syria :p

Or the "fact" that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby leaked Val Plame's name to Vanity Fair?


Posted by: Cass at February 5, 2013 09:27 AM

You should read "The Daughter Of Time" by Josephine Tey. Like all her works, this one is an extremely well written mystery story, but this one has an extra twist. The hero, Inspector Grant, is laid up in bed for quite a while, so he starts to look at the mystery surrounding Richard III using modern detective reasoning. It turns out that the twins were never killed by him, and were documented as still being alive at least 20 years later. The falsehoods were put about after Richard III's death by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

As far as I can tell, this is actually the truth, but no matter how many times it is "discovered" and documented, the history books are never adjusted for the truth.

Posted by: Rex at February 5, 2013 11:48 AM

Thanks, Rex. I love mysteries (next to historical novels, argubly my favorite genre).

Will check it out.

Posted by: Cass at February 5, 2013 02:21 PM

...and "arguably", too!

Posted by: Cass at February 5, 2013 02:22 PM

Second the recommendation for The Daughter of Time. It's a wonderful book - and the whole thing is kicked off by a portrait of Richard III, done while he was alive, and the realization by a detective who sees it that this is indeed not the face of a tyrant. Sounds like the artist who painted the portrait did a good job of capturing character.

Posted by: Elise at February 5, 2013 03:01 PM