The latest Channel Four documentary on Richard III….

I have now seen the excellent Channel Four documentary on whether or not Richard III could have led the cavalry charge at Bosworth. Well, of course, it was already known that he did, so the question was, how efficiently could he do it? The …answer was “Bl–dy well!” The young man, Dominic Smee, whose scoliosis is a virtual match for Richard’s, was an inspiration, not only to others, but to himself as well, which was so very warming to learn.

However, Dominic aside, for he was perfect throughout, I have a quibble or two about the programme itself, excellent as it was, because the verdict at the end was that once Richard became king, he also became a glutton and drunkard. Excuse me? Let me think about this.

On ascending the throne (rightfully, lawfully and without question as the true wearer of the crown) he took on the banquet circus. It was unavoidable. You couldn’t have important ambassadors dining on bread and cheese. Not good for England’s street cred in Europe. Imagine the post-prandial giggles at the French court. Richard is bankrupt and can’t afford hospitality. Hey, maybe we should plan an invasion while he can’t afford to arm his forces… Oh, oui, quelle bonne idée! Pass the napkin and quill, let’s start planning…

But for Channel Four, the implication of these banquets was that Richard ate his way through everything on the immense menu. Historically, he was actually recorded as eating ‘sparingly’. I’d like to see our present queen sitting at a banquet and proceeding to chomp the lot! Richard, apparently also drank far too much. Surely, if he was half-cut all the time, when everyone else wasn’t, someone, somewhere might have made a teensy note? I’m certain our ‘Enery Tudor (for one) wouldn’t have missed such a handy stick with which to beat his predecessor.

The programme kept insisting that Richard’s diet was far, far richer than those of his peers and contemporaries. How do they know? How many other kings’ bones have they ground up to find out? I’m prepared to believe that Richard’s food was much richer once he became king, but the drinking bit is iffy to say the least. They all drank then – the water was as iffy as the conjecture about his booze-addled existence. And he didn’t sit at those banquets alone, so presumably everyone around him was chomping and slurping as well?

So, no, I think Channel Four are hoping for a little controversy. After all, the programme shows that Richard could certainly do everything he is recorded as having done. That might equal ‘boring’ in TV-speak, so let’s home in on something else to crank up the hype. Ah yes – he was a lush! And he had worms. Mustn’t forget the worms. Always good for the shudder factor. Oh, PS, he had more worms than anyone else as well. Yes, neat suggestion. He was excessive in everything!

Otherwise, I enjoyed it all. And nothing has shaken my loyalty or admiration for King Richard III. Adversity struck him on all sides in his health and private life, and in the public form of treachery by those who wanted his power for themselves, but still he was a remarkable king, whose Parliament did so very much for his people. Slightly built, drunk, suffering from indigestion due to gorging on over-rich food at breakfast in his tent, he still came within a few feet of giving Henry the Jelly a fatal dent to the helm. Bonk! One huge Ricardian clout would have been all that was needed, and bingo – no Tudor dynasty! No wonder Henry made sure to never again be on a battlefield. He must have bricked it big time when he watched the demon Richard hacking his way toward him.

So well done, Dominic. I think we now have a much more accurate idea of what Richard actually looked like, gracile arms and all. And Dominic now feels much more confident in himself, so while he did a favour for Richard, Richard has returned that favour. Good luck, Dominic, may your fortunes improve now on. We all wish you well.

And yes, thank you Channel Four, for a very informative programme. Shame about some over-emphases, but on the whole you have done Richard a service.


  1. Thank you, Karen. Love the cat! I have one exactly the same colour, except she’s old and a bit skinnier these days.


  2. It is likely that wine was heavily diluted in that era.
    In “I, Claudius”, Graves recalls that Tiberius (Tiberius Claudius Nero) was known as “Biberius Caldius Mero” (drinker of hot wine with no water added).
    Another character is poisoned as he offers some wine to his taster. The taster thinks it is too strong and the character adds some water – the poison was in the water.


  3. One impression I was under was that they didn’t drink the water because it was so dodgy. So they drank wine. So the wine was too strong. So they diluted it with…water! Back to square one.


  4. The image offered of Richard III imbibing tuns of wine and being a glutton are certainly at odds with the eyewitness account of Silesian ambassador Van Poplau, who attended a sumptuous banquet. The king engaged the ambassador in lively conversation, and it was noted he barely ate at all. Also, the ambassador noted the king’s “spry” physique.

    I’m not an expert on the lab findings, but it would seem that they test the composition of the bone material. If Richard’s diet became increasingly comprised of high protein meats (swans, etc.), that would be consistent with his rise in society, and his kingship. It does not indicate he ate huge portions. The gluttony label is quite silly.

    Great post, by the way. Enjoyed your writing and viewpoint.


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