There is an argument in some quarters that Ricardians are “nutters”, “obsessives” and a lot of other ruder words. There is an element of truth in this, given that virtually all human activity beyond eating, sex and sleeping is inherently pointless. Unless one is part of the enthusiasm, it is equally hard to understand why people are obsessed with golf, twenty-two men kicking a ball around a muddy field, or the events depicted in East Enders. If viewed by an alien, all these “interests” would seem nutty. Indeed, as nutty as squirrel excrement during the nut season.
But if it is “nutty” to be strongly interested in Richard III, is it not still more “nutty” to spend one’s waking hours obsessing over how wicked he was? To hate him?
Consider the facts. He died well over 500 years ago. He is not responsible for anything that happened to us, or our parents, or our grandparents. During the intervening centuries there have been (even if one allows that Richard did everything he is accused of, and also murdered Mistress Smith from the Middleham Pie and Mash Shop) far more evil human beings on earth. Frankly Richard, even when judged at his worst, doesn’t come into the top 100. Consider names like: Hitler; Mao; Stalin; Pol Pot, to name but four. Strangely I don’t come across Facebook pages devoted to stressing how wicked these guys were.
Is it that he is English? Well, there have been worse English and British sovereigns. Consider Henry VIII, who had a butcher’s bill that even a Concentration Camp Kommandant would have considered excessive, including a couple of wives and several close relatives, including an old lady of nearly seventy. Is he hated? No, he is widely admired, and some people include him in the list of the ‘best’ rulers we have had. In some contexts he is seen as the personification of Englishness. (Presumably by those who think the English are cruel, paranoid and vindictive.) I can’t explain it, but there you are.
Then there is Charles I. Some people regard donkeys as proverbially stubborn, but really King Charles should be the proverb of that quality. Stubborn, devious, and repeatedly false to his word. Here is a man that caused an actual Civil War, one so bloody that (proportionate to population) it resulted in more deaths that World War 1. Then there was the little matter of the Leicester Massacre of 1645. Not heard of it? Not surprised, because it rarely gets mentioned. Around 600 dead, mostly civilians, and Charlie was responsible. Do you get pages on Facebook devoted to hating Charles I? Not a chance! Some people actually class him as a saint. Presumably because he had nice, sad eyes and was a good family man.
Is it because Richard did a few summary executions? Some people get immensely worked up about Rivers and Hastings. However Richard did not invent summary executions. Henry IV, Edward IV and Warwick the Kingmaker are among those responsible for quite a few, but again, there are no long posts on the Web telling the world what wicked men they were. On the contrary, Edward IV in particular has strong admirers.
Is it because the Princes were ‘family’? As mentioned before, Henry VIII executed two wives, and Edward IV executed his own freaking brother! Do they get heat for it? No, not really. And note, there is no doubt in these cases. Anne Boleyn did not turn up in Italy. There are no rumours that Clarence spent his declining years laying bricks. They were definitely, beyond doubt, killed. As for killing cousins and uncles and the like – well, the list of sovereigns is too long to bother writing out the guilty.
Is it ‘usurpation’? A lot of people get off on calling Richard a ‘usurper’. Well, it really isn’t much of a shot. The last sovereign to rule England by undoubted title was Richard II. Richard III had quite a decent hereditary claim to the throne and it was confirmed by statute. Henry VII’s claim was simply confirmed by statute. ‘Usurper’! They’ve all been usurpers since 1399! Got it? None has had an undoubted claim. Since 1483 every single one has ruled by Parliamentary authority.
Is it that the Princes were children? Well, that is a big issue, certainly, because even the most notorious villain in prison thinks himself a cut above a child murderer. But you know, we really have no proof at all that Richard had them killed. All we can say with absolute certainty is that they went into the Tower in 1483 and there is no proof that they ever came out. But then we can say exactly the same about Lionel, Owain Glyndwr’s grandson. Yet no one builds a federal case against Henry IV (or maybe Henry V) on that account. Was Lionel murdered? Quite possibly, but we just don’t know. Or there’s Henry Pole who went into the Tower under Henry VIII and never came out. Was he murdered? Quite possibly, but we just don’t know. Again, Henry Pole is just a footnote in history. No one cares.
Does Richard III really stand out as an exceptional villain? I think not. So why do so many people still hate him so? Perhaps it says more about them than it does about him.