Something rather remarkable is happening in England this week, as an old villain enjoys some time back in the spotlight.
A couple of years after his bones were discovered lurking beneath the asphalt of a car park in Leicester, that most foul and evil of English monarchs, Richard the Third—the alleged murderer of his young nephews, King Edward V and Prince Richard—is being reinterred amid pomp and ceremony worthy of his former station. In fact, he’s being installed in a new, multi-million-pound tomb in Leicester Cathedral. And nearby a museum has been erected in his honor.
Yesterday, the late king was given the welcome he didn’t receive after the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Guardian reported that hundreds of thousands of people lined the road that the king’s procession traveled. Here’s part of The Guardian’s report:
“King Richard, may you rest in peace in Leicester”, the city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby said, standing on Bow Bridge, which the last Plantagenet crossed as a battered naked corpse in 1485, his crown, his life and his dynasty lost on the battlefield at Bosworth.
On that August day his body was described by Thomas More as “a miserable spectacle”, slung “like a hogge or a calfe, the head and armes hangyng on the one side of the horse and the legs on the other side”.
The interment will take place on Thursday and, alas, the Queen will not be in attendance. But the current Duke of Gloucester (Richard was the former duke) will be there, along with Richard’s 16th great nephew, who built his new coffin. There will also be a distant cousin. Those two are the only known relations.
This whole brouhaha about Richard got me thinking about the supreme true-crime mystery of British history. Was the king really responsible for the murder of his two nephews at the Tower of London? The weight of historical judgement is that he was. Of course, it was in the Tudors’ interest that he be declared guilty and their greatest accomplice in this propaganda was the Bard himself, William Shakespeare—whose Richard was the Darth Vader of his day.
But one of Britain’s finest mystery writers, Josephine Tey, begged to differ, in what has been called the greatest English mystery novel of all time (ahead of even Conan Doyle, Christie, and Sayers).
In The Daughter of Time (1951), Tey set her master sleuth—a Scotland Yard inspector confined to bed with a broken leg, going mad from boredom—on the trail of the princes’ murderer. With the help of several sidekicks, Inspector Grant looks into the extremely cold case and comes up with a finding that would have gotten his head lopped off in the Tudor era. Here’s Wikipedia on Grant’s admittedly circumstantial conclusions:
- There was no political advantage for Richard III in killing the young princes. He was legitimately made king by an Act of Parliament known as Titulus Regius.
- There is no evidence that the princes were missing from the Tower before Henry VII took over.
- Although a Bill of Attainder was brought by Henry VII against Richard it made no mention of the princes. There never was any formal accusation, much less a verdict of guilt.
- Henry never produced the bodies of the dead princes for public mourning and a state funeral.
- The mother of the Princes, Elizabeth Woodville, remained on good terms with Richard and her daughters took part in court events.
- The Princes were more of a threat to Henry VII as the foundation of his claim to the crown was significantly more remote than theirs.
Ever since my old history professor assigned our seminar group a reading of Daughter of Time (because he considered it a valuable depiction of effective historical research methods), I’ve been of the opinion that Richard III was framed by his successor, Henry Tudor. His only failure was being on the wrong end of a bloody coup d’état. His naked corpse was crammed into a hastily dug grave in a Leicester monastery, which ultimately became a parking lot.
Richard was by no means a great king of England, but he was a king. And it’s a good thing that he’s finally being given the dignity that he so royally deserves.