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Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI

Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

via Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

Sad Days at Sandal Castle

Late September saw some dramatic developments at Wakefield’s important Wars of the Roses and English Civil War site, Sandal Castle. It’s been making the news for all the wrong reasons: increasing levels of abuse and misuse from littering to anti-social behaviour, joyriding, and damage to the monument culminating in a load of horrible graffiti in purple paint being sprayed on the stones of the Great Hall.

Why has this happened? Ultimately, it’s down to national government starving local authorities of the funds to support quality-of-life amenities including heritage. Having done a good job of looking after and developing the site, over several years Wakefield Council was forced to cut back staffing and opening times for its Visitor Centre until it finally closed altogether. This was very sad, not to mention sorely inconvenient for visitors deprived of its facilities (information, loos, refreshments, educational space and gift shop); it also threatened the castle’s wellbeing by removing the staff who discouraged inappropriate use by their very presence.

Nonetheless, the Council continued to maintain the grounds and people continued to come and enjoy Sandal Castle until the rot set in – literally – in March 2016, when the timber walkways and steps giving access to the inner bailey and keep were pronounced structurally unsound and closed for safety reasons. Denying access for grounds maintenance crews means that the motte is now overgrown with weeds and bushes; this unkempt appearance encourages a ‘don’t care’ mentality and contributes to the littering problem – and the lack of safe access makes it impossible for the Friends group to get in and clean up. Worse, many people don’t give a hoot that the walkways are closed, and risk life and limb by scrambling up and down the steep earthworks. Some are teenagers, who congregate in the inner bailey to drink or whatever, secure in the knowledge that adults, including the police, would have a hard job reaching them before they could scarper.

Wakefield Council’s response is too little, too late. The recent graffiti incident led to local press coverage, (87 people including costumed re-enactors turned out for a Wakefield Express photo-call last week), a substantial feature on BBC Radio Leeds on Friday 30th September, masses of public interest and support, and (hurrah!) the subsequent arrest of one of the culprits. Now the Council has issued a statement promising CCTV coverage and more security presence at the site, and they’re also seeking a new tenant for the Visitor Centre so that it can re-open in some form (perhaps as a café). This is all welcome news – albeit no solution to the core problem. Until the walkways are reinstated, people determined to access the monument will continue to climb the earthworks, doing considerable damage in the process and risking serious injury to themselves.

I wish the Council had acted more vigorously to protect Sandal Castle – especially in view of the millions being spent on conservation and new visitor facilities just a few miles away at Pontefract Castle. I can’t understand why the officers responsible for heritage haven’t capitalised on the upsurge of interest in medieval history thanks to Richard III, and put Sandal firmly on the Wars of the Roses tourism map. I can’t understand why a major appeal to raise £175,000 to replace the walkways and steps wasn’t launched back in the spring – if it had been, this monument of national historical significance might not have suffered such harm. But as it is, such works cannot be undertaken over the winter months – so this unhappy situation will persist well into 2017, and the final repair bills will be even higher than they are at the moment.

Meanwhile some of the unauthorised access and attendant damage to the site is being caused by folk out hunting ruddy Pokémon – so if you’d like to join the campaign to get Pokémon removed from Sandal Castle, please visit the Friends of Sandal Castle Facebook page for information and instructions!

Richard III and ‘King Power’!

Being totally uninterested in football, it’s not like me to wait on tenterhooks for a match result – but that’s what happened last week, and now I’m absolutely delighted that Leicester City have just become champions of the Premier League.

Five years ago, news that the football team of an obscure Midlands city had beaten the likes of Manchester United might have rated a few column inches outside the UK as a heart-warming ‘triumph of the underdog’ story. But today it’s splashed all over the international media, including the New York Times, and why? The answer is, rather bizarrely, ‘King Richard III.’ In the first place it’s because, thanks to the discovery and re-burial of his remains in the city centre, people all over the world know about Leicester and continue to be interested in what’s happening there; and in the second place because of the almost spooky about-face in the Foxes’ fortunes since they began playing under the ‘King Power’ banner (while, ironically, York City’s Minstermen languish at the bottom of the second league).

Divine proof that Richard III is a Leicester supporter? I wouldn’t go that far – Richard may well have shared his elder brother Edward’s conviction that football was a frivolous pastime which distracted young men from the far more important pursuit of practicing with the longbow. However, I can’t help thinking there is something in it – like morale. From being the footballing face of somewhere few people outside Britain or the international Ricardian community had ever heard of, the team was catapulted into the spotlight as representatives of a city made world-famous as the last resting place of England’s last warrior king – and by God, they’ve lived up to it. Positive psychology plays a big part in winning at sport, so perhaps naming their stadium ‘King Power’ and emblazoning the words, with a crown, on their shirts was inspired: a very visible way of dinning that sense of power and pride into the players, and supporters, every time they set foot on the field.

Of course, not everyone’s pleased; the usual suspects on social media are clucking and carping about exploitation and the horrible disrespect of hanging a Leicester City scarf round the neck of Richard’s statue beside the Cathedral. I find this sad, because it strikes me as quite the opposite: an affectionate, humorous gesture showing Richard being owned and embraced by the citizens, remembered, included and identified with their victory (and I think he looks very cute in the scarf) – just as people everywhere are reminded of him every time they see an image of the King Power Stadium or the Foxes wearing those shirts. To me, it’s wonderfully positive publicity for British sport and British medieval history, a welcome antidote to all the sadness and horror of the regular news. What’s not to like? Yes, long may Leicester City’s King Power last – go, Foxes!

Richard, Duke of Gloucester: the Man Who Wouldn’t be King

Anti-Ricardians often partly justify their dislike of Richard III on account of his unattractive crown-hunger, claiming that he was always desperate to be king, spent his life plotting to this end and ruthlessly eliminating anyone who stood in his way, and cite as proof the prompt “usurpation” of his nephew Edward V in 1483.

I’ve always found this arrant nonsense. At the time of Richard’s birth in 1452, the throne was squarely occupied by the House of Lancaster; and while many people felt that his father Richard, Duke of York would make a better king than Henry VI, the Yorkist claim was not at this point being actively pursued. Moreover, having three healthy older brothers above him in the pecking order for titles, as a child Richard was but a minor princeling – and when Queen Margaret produced a Lancastrian Prince of Wales in 1453, neither he nor his brothers were remotely serious contenders for the crown.

The situation didn’t change until 1460, when Richard of York’s short-lived stint as heir-apparent raised young Dyckon to fifth in line to the throne. Then he edged a step closer when the Duke’s death at Wakefield was avenged at Towton in 1461 and his eldest brother confirmed as King Edward IV; but thereafter, his loyalty was absolute and his own best interests served by maintaining Edward’s position. I say this not as a ‘bride of St Richard’ who can believe no wrong of him, but because it doesn’t seem to square with the evidence. Think about it: their relationship made Richard of Gloucester the second most powerful magnate in the country, effectively king of the North, able to enjoy all the wealth and prestige without the dangers and burdens of wearing the crown. Edward was Richard’s protector and guarantor, his bulwark against Woodville ambitions; had he lived for another ten or twenty years, (by no means unlikely, given the robust health of their parents), his two sons would have been grown men with their own affinities, no doubt raised by their father to view their uncle as an indispensable political ally, and Richard would not have been king.

Ah, you say, but that didn’t happen – the black-hearted villain pinched his nephew’s crown practically before his brother’s body was cold! So he must have started planning his coup the moment he heard of Edward’s death – mustn’t he? Actually, no. Proceedings at the recent Richard III Foundation Inc. conference make it seem highly unlikely that Richard’s actions in the spring of 1483 were simply designed to lull the Woodvilles into a false sense of security while he laid his plans for usurpation. Susan Troxell, in her discussion of Richard’s heraldic emblem, showed the image of a gold angel naming Edward V as king and bearing a boar’s head mint-mark, dating it to the short period of the Protectorate. Surely issuing coinage is a step too far in terms of subterfuge; surely the implication is rather that Richard did indeed acknowledge his nephew as king, while simultaneously asserting his own intention to be firmly involved with the reign. Subsequently, he might have been satisfied with the role of Protector if he could have felt confident that the young king’s family would accept his pre-eminence. However, considering the dread fates of recent Protectors (Henry VI’s uncle Humphrey, the previous Duke of Gloucester, and his own father Richard), he had good reason to lack this confidence – especially as Professor Peter Hancock has now demonstrated, by an ingenious piece of historical detective work, that William Lord Hastings was not in London on 25th April 1483, but at his castle of Ashby where it seems likely that Richard met him as he travelled down from the north. There he would have received the unwelcome news that the Woodvilles thought they could rule very nicely without him – hence his precipitate actions in arresting Earl Rivers, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughn and securing the person of Edward V at Stoney Stratford on 30th April.

Taking these two pieces of evidence together, I think it’s safe to say that in the immediate aftermath of Edward IV’s death, Richard of Gloucester had no thought of taking the throne for himself; this idea did not develop until the emergence of the pre-contract story and the dawning realisation that, just like his father, he had no choice but to press his own claim to the throne if he wanted to safeguard himself and his family’s future.

Not Hating Henry

I admit it: when I first fell for Richard III and through him, the House of York and Wars of the Roses history in general, I hated Henry VII. (I also hated his mother Margaret Beaufort, the perfidious Stanleys, the late queen Margaret of Anjou, and anyone else I could blame for bringing harm upon my beloved Yorkists). But blind hate – like blind love – doesn’t help an objective study of history. For some vehement anti-Ricardians, the absolute conviction that Richard III was a nephew-murdering usurper warps their entire view of the man, negating every positive achievement in his life before and during his reign, and denying the possibility that his character might have possessed any likeable or praiseworthy aspects. Similarly, for some vehement pro-Ricardians, Henry VII is akin to the anti-Christ, a snivelling, cowardly pretender for whose sake a good and rightful king was treacherously done to death. Initially, the latter was my view – but the more I’ve studied the period, its personalities and politics, the more sympathy I’ve come to feel for everyone involved in that difficult, dangerous time. So, at the risk of making myself thoroughly unpopular, I’ll tell you why I don’t hate Henry: basically, it wasn’t his fault. Yes, think about it: once upon a time, just like Richard III, Henry was an innocent child caught up in a political situation that was none of his making and beyond his control. By pure accident of birth he was deprived of his inheritance, separated from his mother, and in 1472, (as the last faint spark of the Lancastrian claim to the crown), forced to flee for his life with his uncle Jasper Tudor. En route to seek help from Jasper’s cousin, Louis XI of France, they were blown off course and landed in Brittany, where they were obliged to beg asylum from Duke Francis II. Recognising them as valuable pawns in any future diplomatic games with France and England, the Duke was pleased to grant this – and thus, at the age of fourteen, began Henry’s long term of effective, if luxurious, imprisonment. So as he entered his majority, instead of taking possession of the lordship of Richmond, building his affinity, developing his career, looking for a suitable wife and enjoying all the normal rights and privileges of his rank, this blameless youth was being shunted around the Duke’s chateaux under close guard, like some priceless piece of furniture, to prevent him either being rescued by the French or captured (and probably killed) by Yorkist agents. It’s easy to imagine the sense of burning injustice, festering resentment and outright hatred building up in his heart – he certainly had no reason to love the House of York. But he had every reason to leap at the chance of revenge, and of securing an unexpectedly glorious future, which presented itself in the aftermath of Edward IV’s untimely demise in 1483. I don’t blame him for that, either – and the rest, as they say, is history. I still don’t warm to Henry VII as a character, although I believe that his dislikeable traits including suspicion, domination and avarice are a direct result of the fear, deprivation and insecurity he experienced in his early life. Nor do I particularly rate him as a monarch – his first act, predating his reign to the 21st August 1485 in order to attaint the late king’s supporters, was a nasty trick; his later treatment of the unfortunate Princess Katherine of Aragon was heartless in the extreme; and he did plenty of other stuff in between that I can’t like or approve of. Having said that, he performed remarkably well considering his unpromising start and lack of training for such office, and was a paragon of competence compared to the previous Henry. And while I’d still prefer the result of the Battle of Bosworth to have been reversed, (I think Richard III was a good king and, had he lived, would have made a great one), I’d prefer it even more if that battle had never happened at all: if Edward IV had reconciled with the Tudors, made allies of the Earls of Pembroke and Richmond, and that Henry had subsequently supported Richard’s assumption of the throne – surely their combined abilities would have made them a medieval government dream-team! So while I might not exactly like Henry VII, I can no longer find it in my heart to hate him… because I suspect that if I’d been in his position, I’d have done much the same. And if you’re open to persuasion on the subject, try reading Chris Skidmore’s Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors – it might rouse your sympathy for Henry, as it did mine.

King Richard III’s Funeral: Cry, ‘Usurper’ and cancel the plans?

So now we know. The funeral of Richard III will take place from 22nd to 27th March, 2015, beginning with a procession of his remains through villages on the return route from the site of his death to the Cathedral in Leicester. There he will lie in state for three days prior to the reburial service on the 26th, which will be followed by the public opening of the ambulatory where, beneath a tomb bathed in light to represent the eternal life of the spirit, he will henceforth (I hope) be allowed to rest in peace. The official announcement led to a surprising protest from the For Richard Society, and a rather silly item in The Independent of Tuesday 14th October: ‘Yorkists fear an elaborate King Richard III reburial could reignite the War of the Roses.’ (Tchah! Like this hasn’t happened already – where’s the Indie been for the past two years, Pluto?). Apart from the procession being deemed ‘overblown and inappropriate’ (wot?), apparently the problem is the risk that the king’s remains will be abused; that the route will be lined with anti-Ricardians crying, “Boo! Hiss!” (incidentally, the same kind of risk run by any celebrity, politician or royal personage in the modern world, every time they step outside their front doors). Well… lest members of For Richard hadn’t noticed, we live in a democracy where people are (shock, horror!) entitled to dislike Richard III if they wish; and, since we also enjoy the right to free speech, to express that dislike publicly. Sure, shouting hostile remarks at a passing funeral (any funeral) would show an appalling lack of good manners, taste and respect; however, to the best of my knowledge it wouldn’t be illegal. (Same goes for laying red roses at the feet of Richard’s statue in Leicester. Provocative, certainly; illegal, certainly not). So, should the funeral procession be cancelled just in case this happens? Is there a real danger of it degenerating into a series of bloody brawls between the rival forces of ‘Richard was a good, rightful king!’ and ‘No, he was a usurping nephew-murderer!’? I don’t think so. I suspect this ‘fear’ is being fanned by a minority for whom all Leicester’s plans are an abomination, in an attempt to derail and spoil the event for the majority looking forward to it with keen anticipation. Heck, if a few immature folk with nothing better to do in their sad little lives want to yell ‘Murderer’ or ‘Usurper’ at the bones of a monarch dead for 529 years, let ’em get on with it. It’d say a lot more about them than it would about Richard III, and I trust that the more dignified and respectful majority would simply ignore them rather than kicking their heads in. I could be wrong, of course. If the procession plan goes ahead unchanged, (as I hope it will), Richard’s coffin is mobbed and thrown down, and thousands of people end up hospitalised or dead, I’m going to look a right idiot – whereupon, this being a free-speaking democracy, For Richard Society members will be free to tell me so, loud and clear. Hey ho. Guess I’ll just have to take that risk…

Richard III at Bosworth (2): The Final Moments

On this date in 1485, the last Plantagenet king of England died on Bosworth Field defending his crown from Henry Tudor.

Today, thanks to archaeological investigations on the battlefield, we know whereabouts the combat took place and that at least one side (probably the king’s) deployed artillery. The question of exactly how Richard III came to be unhorsed remains a matter for conjecture; suffice to say here that his cavalry charge having failed to dispatch the pretender, he continued fighting manfully on foot ‘in the thickest press of his enemies’ until the fatal melee.

As to how his end came about, the discovery of his skeleton means that myth can be laid aside and his final moments reconstructed with reasonable accuracy. The bardic tradition which has Richard’s head struck so hard by a Welsh halberdier as to drive the crown into his skull is demonstrably untrue, since no such crushing trauma was found.

However, it does contain a grain of truth, indicated by the wounds he in fact sustained. Maybe his helmet was struck by a halberd with sufficient force to stun or disorientate him. Taking instant advantage of this, one or two foes closed in and cut the helmet’s chin-strap, as shown by the shallow cut-marks either side of his jaw.

Once the helmet had been yanked off, it was pretty much ‘game over’. An assailant swung a bladed weapon, probably a sword, at the rear left of his head, aiming to cleave it apart. Richard may have side-stepped or stumbled away, because the blow failed to do this; it did however shear off a disc of scalp several centimetres in diameter, along with the outer layer of skull-bone (consistent with the line, ‘killed the Boar, shaved his head’).

An injury of such stunning force may have driven him to his knees, because another attacker was able to strike the top centre of his head using a square-section weapon such as the beak of a war-hammer or a rondel dagger. This penetrated his skull, driving two flaps of bone into the upper surface of his brain. In all likelihood this rendered Richard unconscious so that he slumped forward, exposing the back of his head. Two opponents then delivered the fatal blows: one, possibly the same swordsman who inflicted the ‘shaving’ injury, plunged his blade in from the left with such force that it penetrated all the way through the brain to leave a mark on the inner table of Richard’s skull. The other, possibly the halberdier, struck from the right, cleaving off a massive slice of bone and cutting into the cerebellum. Either of these wounds would have been instantly fatal – and thus perished the last, and one of the very few, English kings to die in battle.

The one consolation is that this series of events probably takes longer to read about than it did to happen, and (mercifully) Richard may have been aware of very little after the first major blow. But it was a sad end for a brave warrior – so whether you love or hate Richard III, do spare him a thought on this, the 529th anniversary of his death.

Richard III’s ‘Armour’ at the New Leicester Visitor Centre

I haven’t seen this for myself yet – but I’ve seen plenty of photographs and a good deal of huffing and puffing over the replica of Richard III’s suit of armour at the recently-opened Visitor Centre in Leicester.

The bone of contention, (apart from the replica’s authenticity, on which I don’t feel qualified to comment), is that it’s painted white, looks more like a Star Wars storm-trooper than the last Plantagenet king, and is therefore somehow insulting to his memory.

The critics do have a point, up to a point – it’s not particularly attractive. However, as a former museum conservator, I do feel qualified to comment on the likely rationale behind this choice of display technique, because it’s not an uncommon one. From the images I’ve seen, the ‘armour’ looks like a teaching resource: there are numbered labels stuck to it at various points, which I assume tie into a key naming the various pieces and possibly giving information about them. It is painted white to show up well in the dimly-lit display case, to allow the labels to be seen and read easily, and most importantly, to make quite clear that this is a REPLICA – that the Visitor Centre designers have not defaced a real suit of historical armour by sticking adhesive labels all over it. A comparable technique is frequently deployed when original artefacts – ceramic vessels, wall-paintings or whatever – are reassembled by conservators and gap-filled with modern materials painted in a different colour; the intention is not to con the viewer into thinking the item was found complete and in perfect condition, but to differentiate between the historic fabric and the modern reconstruction.

I further assume that the designers chose a white colour-scheme for the replica in an attempt to avoid complaints by visitors who might otherwise believe that it is Richard III’s real armour, and that it has been treated inappropriately; so I bet the poor souls are gobsmacked by the flood of ferocious complaint it has nonetheless provoked.

Richard III at Bosworth (1): Dressed for Battle

Amid the wide-ranging (and often wildly raging) debates that have taken place since the unearthing of his remains in Leicester in September 2012, I have seen it suggested that Richard III may have been unable to wear armour on account of his severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine).

I find this unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, to draw a comparison with a modern Wars of the Roses re-enactor: a member of our group also has scoliosis, (albeit a much milder form than Richard’s) – yet far from finding the wearing of armour a problem, he says that it helps by acting like a rigid corset to support his torso. So, bearing in mind that medieval armour would have been made from thinner, higher-quality steel plate than the average modern replica suit (and therefore considerably lighter), it’s possible that Richard III found his armour perfectly comfortable – something that helped rather than hindered his condition.

Secondly, we have the historical record. There are several illustrations of Richard III in full armour: on the Rous Roll; in the Writhes Garter Book, (an image of the King with Queen Anne at their coronation); and on the royal seal. Mere artistic convention? I doubt it – because thirdly and most compellingly, we have the evidence of his skeleton.

Had Richard III ridden into battle at Bosworth only partially armoured, the areas of his body with the least protection would have been obvious targets for his enemies in the final melee. In such a case, it is highly probable that, like the skeletons recovered from Towton battlefield, his trunk and limbs would show clear signs of sharp-edge or blunt-force trauma. But no such wounds have been found (apart from cuts to the pelvis inflicted post-mortem when his stripped body was slung over the back of a horse). On the contrary, all the major wounds, including the death blows, were inflicted on his head – consistent with his body being fully armoured, although he clearly lost his helmet in the final stages of the battle.

I’ll discuss this more fully in Richard III at Bosworth (2): The Final Moments, which will be posted in August to commemorate the battle. In the meantime, if your thoughts are turning to the young Duke of Gloucester riding out to help Edward IV recover his crown at Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471, or to defend his own crown in 1485, it’s safe to say that you can imagine him as the proverbial knight in shining armour!

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