The True History of King Richard III (Part 1)

Fotheringhay Castle October 1452.

The Duchess of York – aka the Rose of Raby – was not feeling very rose-like. Unsurprising, as she had been pregnant for two whole years. I mean, you know how big some women get after nine months, so after two years she was big. With a capital B. And awkward, and uncomfortable, and all the rest of it. She was also bored with receiving the physicians and midwives who had travelled from all over Christendom to inspect her. Because you see, the word had got around. No one had ever known a woman be pregnant for two years before. Some thought it impossible. But here she was.

It was all the more amazing in that Thomas of York – who had sadly died – had been born in either 1450 or 1451. No one could quite remember when, not even the Duchess. But somehow this other baby had remained in her womb and continued to grow. Eventually a particularly learned physician – a Saracen with a beard and a crescent on his robes – suggested that maybe this new child was a sort of twin who had somehow been retained. However, he admitted he had not seen anything like it, not even in Damascus.

The Duchess was beyond caring. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the labour eventually began. And it went on a long, long time. It was lucky that the Saracen doctor was handy, as they ended up having to cut poor Duchess Cecily open, and usually when they did this in those days the mother was already dead. And if not she soon would be. But so skilled was the doctor that not only did Cecily live, she survived until she was quite old. What’s more, her husband was even able to persuade her to have another child, a daughter called Ursula, who only stayed in the womb for the usual nine months. What marvellous chaps these Saracen physicians were!

Anyway, to return to the baby of 2nd October 1452 – he had a full set of hair and a full set of teeth. And the women crowded round the bed, who were all capable of foreseeing the future, said that he was going to bite the world. And when the Countess of Warwick – who was there in her role as amateur midwife – opened the baby’s fist, she found that he was clutching a little silver dagger, which he’d be using to stab his mother for the past two years. No wonder she’d had such an uncomfortable pregnancy!

So they took him along to the big church next to the castle, and baptised him with the name of Richard. This was his father’s name, and they chose it because he looked just like the Duke of York, which none of the other children did, as they took after their mother’s side, the big blond Nevilles. Because of course no Plantagenet had ever been big, or blond, in all the years since 1154. York was a bit shorter than most Nevilles and had darkish hair.

Naturally, he peed in the font. The baby that is, not the Duke of York. Luckily the Duke was the patron of the church, so none of the priests made a big fuss. Instead they went off to the castle in procession and had a big feast, with boars’ heads and stuff. And people threw bones over their shoulders and spat on the floor.

The Duchess had hers on a tray, as she was still a bit sore.

(Reblogged from Greyhounds and Fetterlocks)


    1. Have no idea, other than early fiction writers wanted to make Richard that bit ‘different’ from the others. The gold hair idea may be from a piece of period stained glass of Edward too, but people often have gold hair in stained glass because the sun shines through it more attractively. I think the whole family probably had some shade of brown hair tbh, like most folks. Edward’s existing hair is definitely brown, and as ancient preserved hair tends to lighten over the years, I imagine in life it was not a particularly pale shade of brown either.

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      1. Yes, I’m guessing the process went something like this:

        – Contemporary accounts: Edward IV was very tall. Richard III was short and had a slim built. Richard was said to resemble his father. Edward was considered super handsome. Margaret was tall.

        – After Bosworth, the story about Richard’s “crooked” back comes out.

        – Tudor historians start emphasizing that Richard was short and crookbacked and writing about how he was deformed, small, ugly, with a withered arm, etc.

        – They decide that he was always super-jealous of Edward, and of George, so now Edward and George are both tall and handsome. (Even though I don’t think there are any contemporary descriptions of George?) Everybody in the family was now tall except for Richard.

        – At some point (17-18th century?), Edward becomes blond for some reason (in spite of having brown hair in all his portraits up till about a 100 years after his death).

        – Writers decide Edward was blond, and Richard was dark.

        – Now all of Richard’s siblings become tall and blond, and he’s the short and dark among them.

        – Since Richard looked like his father, people assume Richard, Duke of York was short and dark (even though there’s no evidence about his height or coloring)

        – So now, since everyone in the family is supposed to be tall and blond other than Richard and his father, it’s assumed that Cecily Neville was tall and blond. And all her family. Even though there are no contemporary descriptions of her, and the earliest description (by Hall) just says that she was… short.

        There are other myths that also sprung out of nothing, such as:

        – a poem about Cecily’s and RoY’s children includes the line “Richard liveth yet” – just to point out that Richard was one of the children who survived, as opposed to his older brother Thomas and younger sister Ursula. (It’s also there because of the verse, since apparently that line isn’t even in the Latin version of the poem.) Someone at some point reads that line out of context and decides that this meant Richard was a sickly child. (It fits with the idea of Richard having all sorts of deformities)

        – Edward of Middleham suddenly dies , while his parents are on the way to Middleham to see him. Centuries later, people decide that this means he must have always been a sickly child. Even though there’s nothing to indicate that, and it seems that his illness was short and sudden, and his death came as a surprise and shock.

        – Anne Neville falls mortally ill at the age of 27 and dies several months later. Centuries later, writers decide that this means she must have been sickly and frail all her life. (Even though there’s no evidence of that whatsoever, it’s not clear how she would usually appeared with Richard on public occasions and how she ran things in the North when he was on war campaigns, if she was so sickly and on the brink of death. One account from Richard’s progress in 1483 says that the king and queen are both in good health.) The fact that she had just one child (that we know of – there may have been stillbirths or children dying in infancy, for all we know), also makes many writers decide that she must have been sickly and frail and on the brink of death all the time (because clearly if you’re not “fertile” enough, you must be physically lacking).

        – There’s also the myth that Edward V was ill, which Annette Carson has analyzed. The only evidence is… that he had a personal doctor (every royal child would have); that some of his other siblings died young (including women who died in childbirth) and… the older of the two skeletons found during the rule of Charles II had a disease of the jaw. Even though it seems extremely unlikely that Edward was suffering from such a slow, difficult disease, which would probably cause facial deformities as well – contrary to contemporary descriptions of him, and the fact that his younger brother was not being intensely trained and prepared as a spare in case Edward died (which would’ve been a serious concern if he had such a disease).


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