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Mythmaking: BONES IN THE RIVER

Night. The late Middle Ages. An angry mob rips open the sealed tomb of a man and carries his fleshless skeleton through the town streets, jeering. Reaching a field of execution, the bones are hurled on a pyre and burnt, then crushed to small fragments. This indignity not being enough, the desecrated remains are then gathered up and hurled unceremoniously into a Leicestershire river while the throng gazes on, casting  abuse at the meagre remnants of the hated dead man as the waves swallow them…

A version of  River Soar myth about Richard III, now disproved by the finding of his lost grave?

No, but the above story is almost certainly the origin of this once pervasive myth.

It was John Wycliffe, who produced the first Bible in English, whose bones met this fate. A Yorkshire man, who was educated at Merton College in Oxford, he was a noted theologian and philosopher, who became the rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. He wrote books that were considered heretical and was accused of  inspiring the Peasant’s Revolt. His followers, the Lollards, were often persecuted…and executed…long after his death. He himself remained a threatening figure to the church even years after he died of a stroke. As he had escaped the normal heretics’ punishment of death by burning, when he lived, it was decided to vent the punishment on his remains. So his skeleton was disinterred, burned and hurled into the River Swift.

Somewhere along the line, this true tale ‘grew in the telling’ and changed, as such stories often do; repeated over and over with added embellishments and errors  they  lose their original meaning and only retain fragments of the truth…in this case, that the remains of a persecuted man had been dug up from the grave by a mob and thrown into a Leicestershire river. To the average person, centuries after the event, who was better known and more interesting to tell such tales about,  a slain King or a heretical theologian?

Once Stuart era cartographer John Speed had written down the legend in regards to Richard, it swiftly took hold and was accepted henceforth accepted as truth by many…including numerous historians, although without one scrap of hard evidence (these historians shall remain nameless!)

The mythologisers had put the wrong man in the wrong river.

You know the rest.

wycliff

 

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3 thoughts on “Mythmaking: BONES IN THE RIVER

  1. C J Lock on said:

    As in all myths – there is a kernel of truth – but truth about what and who is distorted over time. So easy to see how Tudor propaganda took hold and grew to ridiculous proportions over the years, aided in no small measure by the Bard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alan White on said:

    The story about Richard III bones being throw into the River Soar, when the Grey Friars in Leicester taken over at the Dissolution of Monasteries, has a counter-part in the story about the remains of King Stephen at Faversham Abbey, Kent.

    In a BBC News web article (by Greig Watson), local historian Jack Long says: “In John Stow’s ‘Annales’ of 1580, he repeats the local legend that the royal tombs were desecrated for the lead coffins and any jewellery that the bodies might have worn, and the bones thrown into the creek”, but ” they were retrieved and reburied in the church of St Mary of Charity in Faversham.”
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-19487335

    Disrespect for the dead is reported in at least one other place – Saint Paul’s, London – where the Lord Protector in the reign of Edward VI, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, is said to have removed the “burial chapel called the Charnel,” next to Canons Alley, “from whence Somerset sent cart-loads of bones to Finsbury Fields”
    http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol1/pp262-274

    Like

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