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No more chocolate-box boys in the Tower, PLEASE….!

 

And to cap it all, we even have Kittens in the Tower!

Kittens in the Tower

Oh, for heaven’s sake!

Right, there is a famous “story” about one of our 15th-century princes of Wales, specifically Edward of Lancaster (or Westminster), seven-year-old son and heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The fame goes that after the 2nd Battle of St Albans, which his side won, his mother asked him to decide the fate of two opposition knights who had been found guarding his father, the captive, rather weak-minded Henry VI. Little Edward chose to have their heads lopped off, even though his father protested. The prince was to eventually come off worst at the Battle of Tewkesbury, at the age of eighteen. (There are various versions of how he died, and at whose hand.)

Royal boys had armour in those days, and there are examples in the White Tower. Was Edward wearing something like this at the time of his supposed seven-year-old bloodthirstiness?

Well, of course, no one knows if the story is true. If it is, the adjective “bloodthirsty” is well earned where Edward of Lancaster is concerned. If it’s untrue, well, he is exonerated. But, given all the ferocious training young aristocratic and royal boys had to go through from the age of seven, he would certainly have already been faced with the brutal reality of medieval warfare. They all were. They learned to handle weapons that could kill, and were shown exactly how to put an end to an opponent. Some idea of this can be seen at http://www.lordsandladies.org/knighthood-training.htm and the following illustrations show more.

quintain - 3stages of knighthood

be master of all this

Imagine our little boys being confronted with such an armoury, and told they will be expected to be master of it all before they’re even men. Imagine them even being sent away to strangers to start learning how to shed blood. Unthinkable.

Like Edward of Lancaster, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) is another example of this same rigorous knightly tuition from the age of seven, and learned every battle skill he might ever need. And he was very good at it. By seventeen he had his own independent command, and took part in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. It was expected of him, and he met the challenge.

The boys in the Tower were Richard’s nephews. The elder was another Edward, Prince of Wales of questionable legitimacy (there are considerable doubts that Henry VI was Edward of Lancaster’s father), and was coming up for thirteen when he and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury (aged ten) were ensconced in the royal apartments of the Tower in 1483, after their father’s unexpected death. Both boys would have been well into their training.

They were princes of the blood. They were educated, conditioned with a sense of their superiority and importance, and learning the hows and ways of defending themselves in battle. So, in my opinion, big-eyed, clingy, vulnerable, little golden angels they were not. Yet all we see are paintings that follow the same melted-marshmallow theme.

Do we ever see similar gushing illustrations of little eight-year-old Richard of Gloucester, in exile, clinging to his not-much-older brother George of Clarence after the deaths of their father and another elder brother, Edmund? No. Why? Because there are Tudor pawmarks all over the advent of the nauseating chocolate-box images. For the advent of everything concerning the boys of 1483, in fact. There is no evidence that they were killed at all, let alone by their wicked Uncle Richard. And they weren’t in a dungeon in the tower, they were in the royal palace apartments. Theories of their fate abound, of course, but that is not of concern here. And—whisper it loudly!—the Tudors themselves weren’t without good motive for despatching the boys.

Anyway, if I never see another sugary portrait of these yucky little angels, I will be well pleased.

(On another note entirely, there is another Murrey and Blue post about how portraits can influence us. See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/can-a-picture-paint-a-thousand-words/)

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Mediaeval Armour

I just found some videos on You Tube discussing how a mediaeval knight was armed and the differences between Gothic German armour and White Italian armour. They were both very interesting and you can see them here: How a Man Shall Be Armed: 15th Century and here: White Italian Armour VS German Gothic Armour

Photo Italian mediaeval armour c.1450

Italian armour circa 1450

Have a look and then post your opinion on the following:Which type of armour do you think Richard wore? I presume he would have had one or the other, since they were the best. He was known to have commissioned Italian armour for his knights, so I would plump for that – also which type would you prefer to wear and why?

 

 

 

Image credit: Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A new take on “Full Metal Jacket”….!

Before anything else, let me identify the above illustrations. Top left is, um, supposedly a 15th century back armour. Whoever wore it, male or female, was rather peculiar anatomically. 2nd top left is a Boccaccio Amazon Queen. 3rd top left is an illustration from the British Library, and top right is Queen Isabella with her lover, Roger Mortimer. Bottom left is Joan of Arc, and bottom right is Sophie Okonedo as Margaret of Anjou from “The Hollow Crown” series.

Right, now to explain what links them all…in case you haven’t noticed all the armour! There is a very interesting article at http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/surprising-truth-behind-armor-dress-whipped-facebook-page-frenzy/, featuring a very novel armour dress. The full thing, plentiful skirt to the ankles, the lot.

armor-dress-3-e1418153394522-630x420

Totally illogical, of course…at least, it would be if it were the real thing. As the article explains “…The dress is not an original object from the Renaissance, made of metal … it is made of plastic and represents the style of that time…” And as a conception, it’s daft – just imagine mounting your horse to go into battle! Looking at illustrations of warrior ladies from the past, it’s clear they only protected their upper half, with a sort of peplum below the waist. Below that, just the usual skirts, albeit probably in some thick, heavy material. But Joan of Arc seems wrong in the above illustration of her. Didn’t she always dress as a man/boy?

As for the back armour at top left. Can’t be for the back, surely? I mean, who has bosoms at the back? No man I can think of, nor any women, come to that. Unless, of course, you know better…?

Why put Richard III (or anyone else) in white armour….?

Illustration from the tournament book of King René of Anjoufrom King René’s Tournament Book

The only thing I am concerned with here is what is actually meant by the term “white armour”. And I do not refer to the star trooper that is supposed to be Richard III. Plus, I am definitely not an armour buff, but just trying to fathom some of the finer points.

White armour was made of polished steel. There are numerous references to it, mostly with praise and admiration, as it was (supposedly) more precious and admirable than field armour, which was not polished.

Anne Wroe mentions it as follows (concerning Perkin Warbeck):-

Other things, too, were going on in Cork at the time. The confession mentions a Yorkist refugee, John Taylor, as one of the kidnappers loitering on the dockside. But Taylor was not there by chance. He was in charge of a small fleet, equipped and paid for by the King of France, which had been sent apparently to fetch a Yorkist prince, or an imitation of one. Taylor hoped thereby to foment a rebellion in favour of the Earl of Warwick, but the prince who had arrived was already, it seems, proclaiming himself as the Duke of York. Some debate may have followed about which name the young man was to take, if he was not truly the prince. But in the hold of one of Taylor’s ships lay a suit of precious white armour already made for him. In short, he was expected.

http://www.richard111.com/perkin_warbeck__imposter_or_pri.htm

I have found other references too, including that Tudor, on arriving in Wales, would undoubtedly strike awe into everyone in his dazzling white armour. There are many more in a similar vein, but I will not overload you with them. Suffice it that if you wore white armour, the implication was that you were the bee’s knees.

Now I have been looking through a large book entitled Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia by Noel Fallows. On pages 80-81 it states:-

. . . As clarified by Amadis de Gaula, in medieval Castile white armour denoted a certain level of skill since it was typically worn by novice knights . . .

and

. . . “I told him I would take the horse, because it was very good, and the cuirass and the helmet; but that the other arms were to be white as is fitting for a novice knight.” . . .

and

. . . fought by two of the least skilled knights, who are pointedly described as wearing white armour. White, polished armour would still have been expensive and of high quality . . .

Aha, do I hear you cry? What is she waffling about? This book only refers to jousting, not to battle circumstances. And in Castile, not England and Wales. I agree, but these knights went all over Europe attending tournaments. Just think of the film A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger. And this is where my problem arises. What did white armour signify in the real world, i.e. not the glamour of the tournament? Did it suddenly become very desirable indeed to appear in highly polished steel? Or did it still indicate the novice? So, in a tournament, an experienced knight would never challenge, or accept a challenge from, a less skilled knight in white. But on the battlefield . . . ?

Perkin Warbeck would clearly have been a novice . . . and maybe the same could be said of Henry. He was no warrior, and I have never read of him appearing in a tournament on the continent, or anywhere else. I know, I know, he was under house arrest and therefore couldn’t, but the end result is the same, he had no experience. Then again, I cannot imagine he would draw attention to his lack of skill and experience by strutting around in white. He was too canny for that.

So, am I right to think that white armour indicated one thing in jousting, but quite another in real combat? And one thing in Castile, but quite another in England? I am sure someone out in WordPressland is going to tell me.

 

Richard gets porcelain and a modern firearm…?

All this and a modern firearm too...

Forgive me if I’m a little bemused. This picture is Richard. OK? But he’s dressed to look like a clown, with what looks like breast armour representing his innards. Hmmm. As for the weapon, I’m sure Richard would have been pleased to arm his men with such things. More hmmmmm…. Well, the French do have a different way of looking at things, but to me this is totally daft. Nul points.

http://citizen.co.za/afp_feed_article/richard-iii-gets-suit-of-french-porcelain/

 

 

Body of Evidence

“Body of Evidence” was the title of a talk given by Dominic Smee, Richard’s “body double”, at Leicester University earlier this year. Until recently, one of the great mysteries surrounding the last Plantagenet king was the contradiction between the severity of his supposed deformities and his reputation as a soldier, praised amongst others by his brother Edward IV, who was himself considered a paragon of military prowess. Some historians suspected that his deformities were exaggerated or even completely invented by his political enemies, pointing to the fact that reports about them only began to surface after his death, while others argued that it was his military reputation which was exaggerated and that his contemporaries were simply too scared to mention his deformities during his lifetime.

The finding of Richard’s skeleton with its severe scoliosis has reignited the debate. As Philippa Langley succinctly put it when first setting eyes on the royal remains: “How do you fit armour on that?” This was the question scientists and historians tried to answer by dressing scoliosis sufferer Dominic in medieval armour and putting him through his paces. The results were presented in the TV documentary “Richard III – The New Evidence” (published in the US as “Secrets of the Dead – Resurrecting Richard III”) – at least, some of them. The purpose of Dominic’s talk at Leicester University was to reveal, based on photos, videos and personal anecdotes, what the producers had chosen to exclude.

The scoliosis and its effects (or not)

He began by showing an x-ray of his scoliosis, which is identical to Richard’s in terms of angle and rib rotation, except that Richard’s scoliosis starts from the 4th vertebra whereas Dominic’s starts from the 3rd vertebra. This means that he has slightly less mobility in his hips than Richard while Richard would instead have had slightly less mobility in his right shoulder. Given how dramatic the curvature looked on the x-ray, it was startling how little it seemed to affect Dominic as he moved around the auditorium and under a t-shirt and light jacket it was all but invisible.

He explained that due to the sideways curvature of his spine the lung capacity on his left side is reduced, but the right side is normal and while he tires more easily than a person without scoliosis, it is not a big issue. The documentary shows him struggling for breath on a treadmill, but at that point he had already been running for 20 minutes. According to his orthopaedic surgeon his other internal organs, such as his heart, are not affected by the scoliosis, which was a key reason why Dominic decided not to have corrective surgery.

There has been much speculation about Richard being in pain and the impact this may have had on him physically and psychologically, but Dominic didn’t experience any pain during his teens and now, in his late twenties, only gets muscle cramps in cold weather conditions or when lifting something heavy, though not enough to need pain killers. He described the pain from a trapped nerve as 10-20 times worse. Unlike Richard he doesn’t have arthritis in his spine, so he was unable to comment on its effect, but this may have been a relatively recent development for the king, who was 32 years old at the time of his death. He would have also been training for armed combat since childhood, which would have strengthened his muscles and helped to support his back.

By contrast, aside from a spell of karate in his teens Dominic led a sedentary lifestyle, so he had to start his knightly training from scratch at age 26. He estimated that he received 40 hours of horse training and 32 hours of weapons training over three months, at an average of two lessons per week, to prepare him for the challenges that were thrown at him in the documentary. The producers actually had a stand-in on hand, but Dominic did so well that they decided to use him all the way.

Customising the armour and unseen research

Because of the sideways curvature of his spine Dominic’s rib cage rests on his hip, so regular armour causes his ribs to rub against the plate, restricting his breathing. The custom-made asymmetrical cuirass, created by Swedish armourer Per Lillelund Jensen from CK45 spring steel, the closest modern equivalent to medieval armour steel, accommodates the curvature and rests on his shoulders instead of his waist. At 62 pounds total weight his armour is also lighter than average to allow for greater agility and to minimise the impact of the asymmetrical weight distribution on his horse. Dominic had brought the cuirass along to the talk and despite the slightly uneven shoulders, which would normally be concealed by the shoulder pauldrons, it looked remarkably “normal”.

1) and 2) Dominic in full armour, and 3) the custom-made cuirass

Dominic gave due credit to his teachers, Dave Rawlings of the London Longsword Academy and Dominic Sewell of Historic Equitation, as he described how he started out learning sword moves from Hans Talhoffer’s medieval fencing manual, but then moved on to other weapons as Richard would have also learned to fight with battle axe and lance, how he and his horse learnt to deal with the asymmetrical weight distribution and how they discovered that the medieval saddle supported his back.

He also revealed that they choreographed a number of scenarios to explore how Richard may have died, both on foot and sitting on a vaulting horse, to see how long he could have defended himself against a group of halberdeers. Another experiment involved a reenactor hitting the top of a sallet with a pole axe, which created a similar imprint in the polystyrene head underneath as the wound on top of Richard’s skull because, due to the gap between sallet and skull, the weapon couldn’t penetrate fully, possibly confirming that “the stroke his Basnett to his head vntill his braines came out with blood”[1]. Most intriguingly Toby Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection and the man who got Dominic involved in the documentary, reenacted Richard’s last cavalry charge to see if he could have covered the 800 or so yards distance in time to kill Henry Tudor before he was attacked by Stanley’s men. Dominic didn’t specify how they worked out the available timespan, but in an interview with Jon Snow of Channel 4 Dr Capwell stated that, if Richard hadn’t killed the standard bearer but gone straight for Tudor, the charge may well have succeeded. Sadly none of this made it into the documentary, except for a snippet that shows Dominic playing dead on the floor. As he pointed out, this too was part of the choreography – he hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion.

Unseen challenges

What also wasn’t shown in the documentary was that, due to time and financial constraints, only the cuirass and leg armour, which were so comfortable that Dominic was able to ride a bicylce in them, were custom made. The sallet, shoulder pauldrons, gauntlets and arming doublet were borrowed from fellow re-enactors and the Royal Armoury, which led to unforeseen complications.

Dominic described wearing a sallet as similar to looking through a letterbox: he could only see his horse’s ears and the tip of his lance, all sounds were muffled except the wind whistling around his head and to take his battle axe out of his belt with gauntlet-clad hands, use it and put it back he had to rely on muscle memory. However, the sallet he wore in the programme was too big and the first time he galloped towards the quintain it slid down until it covered his eyes, so he had to pad out his coif to hold it in place. Similarly, the arming doublet didn’t take account of his scoliosis, so it too had to be padded to keep the armour from sliding or rubbing. The symmetrical shoulder pauldrons kept catching on his asymmetrical cuirass, reflecting his shoulder blades catching on his rib cage underneath, so every time he lifted the lance he had to deliberately push up the pauldrons, which should have risen automatically as he lifted his arms had they fit correctly. He had to try and hold reins and weapons without being able to close his hands because the gauntlets didn’t fit. And while the high-backed medieval saddle helped his posture, it wasn’t designed to interact with his custom-made armour so the culet, a piece of armour that’s meant to protect the rider’s bum from weapons while on horseback, was instead driven into Dominic’s bum. Imagine galloping through a field wearing ill fitting plate armour and trying to hit a target with a weapon you’re unable to grip properly – after only 40 hours of training!

The real Richard

Although Dominic didn’t say it, it seems clear that the documentary was edited to emphasise his physical limitations, for example filming him when he was out of breath or playing dead, while glossing over the shortcomings he overcame, such as ill fitting armour and lack of experience (not to mention interpreting the isotope analysis as evidence of a “dissolute” lifestyle). Of course, if Dominic’s achievements were even more impressive than they appear in the programme – he spent up to 11 hours a day on horseback – then it should be even less surprising that Richard, with his greater experience and custom-made armour, was able to earn a reputation as a competent warrior.

To explore how and to what extent these “limitations” can be further compensated Dominic has set up the Dominic Smee Armour Fund to raise money for a fully customised suit of armour. He has already added a new piece to his collection: an asymmetrical arming doublet curtesy of Ninya Mikhaila of The Tudor Tailor, which fits under his asymmetrical cuirass without the need for padding. He is also writing a book about his scoliosis and how his attitude has changed from previously ignoring it to now accepting it. As he commented at the end of the talk, the biggest surprise for him was finding out how much he is actually able to do.

I would recommend Dominic’s talks to anyone who is interested in Richard III. He’s an engaging speaker who, despite his different background, is in the unique position of being able to offer insights based on first hand experience. “Body of Evidence” added many new details to my understanding of the historical Richard and I look forward to any new information Dominic’s research may reveal.

[1] The Song of Ladye Bessiye

Sources:

Dominic Smee: “Body of Evidence”, Leicester University, 21 March 2015

The Dominic Smee Armour Fund

Arming Richard

When I was in Leicester for the re-interment I was lucky enough to be able to attend a lecture by the armour expert, Richard Knox, and Dominic Smee, Richard’s body double.

Demonstration of Richard III double being armed

Richard Knox arming Dominic

As an osteopath I was interested in some of the information Dominic gave about that and this included the height of Richard and how much he would have lost because of the scoliosis. Dominic said that his orthopaedic consultant told him that he had lost three inches because of the scoliosis. As we know, Richard would have been 5 feet 8 inches without taking it into account, so that means his actual height would have been 5 feet 5 inches (not 4 feet 8 inches which I saw reported in a local Leicester paper!) Additionally, Dominic told us that his scoliosis began one vertebra lower than Richard’s and that this would mean that Richard would have been a little more flexible in the hips than him but a little less flexible in the shoulders. (As an aside, Dominic also told us his brother’s name was Richard!)

Dominic in body armour

Dominic shows that his scoliosis is not apparent in armour (nor, indeed, when in normal clothes)

As far as the actual arming went, they showed us the kind of armour Richard would have worn and then how it would have been fitted. Dominic wore his leg armour from the start of the talk as he said that was quite tricky to put on and fairly easy and light to wear, so perhaps Richard would have worn his leg armour in advance of the battle as well. Nor would the leg armour prevent them answering the call of nature! The rest of the harness took about twenty minutes to put on and, to demonstrate, Dominic was armed by Richard Knox while they commented on what they were doing and what it was called, etc. One fascinating photo-slide that they showed was of the view Dominic had while wearing the armour during his charge on horseback. All he could see was his horse’s ears! It must have been terrifying! And he didn’t have enemy soldiers trying to kill him. I later tried on one of the helmets and it was terribly claustrophobic. Not only could you see very little, nor could you hear clearly – everything was muffled. And Dominic confirmed it would get very hot after wearing it for a while, especially in the summer. So now I can understand why some knights in armour would have removed their helmets, despite the danger. I could almost feel the panic if one was claustrophobic.

Dominic armed - note the helmet's narrow eye slit

Dominic armed – note the helmet’s narrow eye slit

In conclusion, I now appreciate even more how courageous Richard and the other knights must have been to charge into battle against the enemy, whilst being half deafened, half blinded and suffocatingly hot!

Bones Don’t Lie

Some people insist that the discovery of Richard III’s lost grave means nothing for history, but this view is increasingly hard to justify. The finding and scientific examination of his remains has revealed – and continues to reveal – facts that cast doubt on many popular theories about England’s most controversial king. So what can his bones tell us about the man?

Starting with his childhood, they put his relationship with the north into perspective. Much has been written about Richard’s childhood home at Middleham Castle and his wardship in the Earl of Warwick’s household. According to wide-spread belief, he lived in Yorkshire for most of his formative years and it has been suggested that the happy time spent in this “native country of his spirit” [^1] shaped his personality. Others have argued that, having lost his father at an early age, the ambitious Kingmaker became his mentor and served as role model for his more controversial actions, such as the executions of Hastings and Rivers and the deposition of Edward V.

By carrying out a multi-isotope analysis of Richard’s teeth, which would have formed during his childhood and early adolescence, and bone samples from parts of his skeleton which would have regenerated at slower rates, scientists were able to plot his life history geographically. The results indicate that from age 7 he lived in southwest Britain, possibly Ludlow in the Welsh Marches, part of the duchy of York. Only during his adolescence did he move back into eastern England.

This ties in with the view held by a number of historians that Richard was only in Warwick’s custody for about 3 years, from age 13 to 16. Although his name was added to charters and commissions before 1465, these were most likely nominal appointments, similar to the office of Admiral of England, Ireland and Aquitaine to which he was appointed around the same time. As they point out, “a child of 9 cannot be a commissioner, any more than he could preside over admiralty courts.”[^2]

Moreover, Richard may have only seen Warwick at special occasions, such as the enthronement feast of George Neville as Archbishop of York, as the Earl’s commitments required him to travel and it is unlikely that he personally tutored his ward in lessons as diverse as horsemanship, weapons training, hawking, languages, music and dancing. It is therefore doubtful that Richard saw him as a mentor or that his wardship had a significant influence on his personality.

Moving on to his adult life, the analysis of Richard’s spine has shown that he was not a “hunchback”, but suffered from adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis. The condition typically associated with the word hunchback, which is not a medical term, is kyphosis, a forward curvature of the spine that causes the upper part of the back to appear more rounded than normal. By contrast, scoliosis is a sideways curvature which results in uneven shoulders or hips. Based on a 3D reconstruction of Richard’s spinal column, scientists concluded that his scoliosis was spiral shaped with a Cobb angle of 70-90 degrees during life. While this is classed as severe, the curve was well balanced and abnormalities of individual vertebrae were restricted to the chest region, which means that the physical disfigurement was slight and could be easily disguised with custom-made clothing. Aside from this, his bones were symmetric and well formed. He did not have a withered arm nor did he walk with a limp.

This explains why Tudor sources describe Richard as deformed while contemporary accounts do not: his contemporaries weren’t afraid to speak the truth; they simply couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until after his death at the battle of Bosworth, when his naked body was thrown over a horse to transport it back to Leicester, that his condition became public knowledge. Indeed, one way of diagnosing scoliosis is to ask the patient to bend forward as this causes the curve to protrude. Unfortunately for Richard, in the Middle Ages an imperfect body was seen as indication of a corrupt mind, so his condition was seized upon and further embellished by the Tudors to justify the usurpation of Henry VII. We should therefore be wary of the logic that, if the Tudors were right about his deformity, they were probably also right about his character: not only did they attribute deformities to him that he did not have, but in the age of Paralympics and equal opportunity employment we hopefully no longer see physical imperfection as a sign of mental corruption.

According to the scientists, Richard’s scoliosis was not disabling as back pain and breathing or heart problems are rare, even in severe cases. This was vividly demonstrated in the TV documentary “Richard III: The new evidence”, which saw a young man with Richard’s gracile bone structure and the same degree of scoliosis explore the king’s ability to wield medieval weapons and fight on horseback. To the surprise of medical experts and combat instructors, he mastered every challenge, even though he had no prior experience and led a sedentary lifestyle. The experiments revealed that, far from reducing his physical ability, the plate armour and medieval saddle actually improved it by supporting his back. Richard would have trained for combat since childhood and therefore grown up to be considerably more athletic than his body double, so his scoliosis would have affected him even less.

The programme also confirmed that a 70-90 degree Cobb angle can be easily disguised. In a loose fitting t-shirt the young man’s scoliosis was barely noticeable and under armour it was completely invisible. Like that of his body double, Richard’s armour would have been custom-made to accommodate his uneven shoulders and hips, but there is no reason to doubt his well-documented military reputation based on his physicality. Consequently the reverse argument that, if he managed to overcome his disability, this indicates a powerful personality capable of great ambition and potentially evil, is also no longer credible.

The conclusion that his scoliosis was not disabling is further supported by the analysis of the perimortem trauma on his remains, which identified 11 injuries from bladed weapons inflicted around the time of death, 9 to the skull and 2 to his ribs and pelvis, indicating that he really was “killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.”[^3] The absence of defensive wounds on arms and hands suggests that, although he had lost his helmet, he was indeed wearing armour. Since this would have protected his body, the cuts to his ribs and pelvis are thought to be humiliation injuries, inflicted post mortem when his naked corpse was thrown over a horse. Notably, Richard’s remains show fewer post mortem injuries than those found at Towton and while he was buried hastily and with minimal reverence, his grave was located in a place of honour. James IV of Scotland, who historians describe as a wise and charismatic ruler, fared far worse. After his death at the battle of Flodden his unburied corpse was allowed to rot away until his head became detached from his body and eventually both parts were lost. The treatment Richard’s body received in death is therefore not proof that he was widely hated.

The assumption that he was hated or feared was also at the heart of the belief that his remains had been dug up at the dissolution of the monasteries, carried through the streets by a jeering mob and then thrown into the river Soar. This story was so widely accepted that it was even cited by ULAS, the archeologists commissioned to dig for Richard’s grave under the now famous Leicester car park, on the application for the license to exhume the remains suspected to be his. The positive identification of the undisturbed remains has since shown that it had no basis at all.

Unfortunately, as old myths are debunked, new ones are being created. Much was made in the TV documentary of the fact that Richard suffered from roundworm infection and osteoarthritis and that, according to the multi-isotope analysis, his diet became richer in the last 2-5 years of his life and contained a higher proportion of wine compared to water and beer. The programme concluded that his “ill health”[^4] and “dissolute”[^4] lifestyle were responsible for his defeat at Bosworth and even suggested that he charged Henry Tudor on horseback because he was too unfit to fight on foot. This contradicts both historical records, which show that this diet was normal for a Medieval king and that only a year before Bosworth he was described as very slender and more interested in conversation than food, as well as scientific research which indicates that he had fewer parasites than the average Medieval person and that arthritis was common in the Middle Ages. The authors of the multi-isotope analysis have since dismissed the allegations as unfounded and the body double has revealed that he spent 20 minutes on a treadmill before running out of breath, so again there is no reason to assume that Richard, who reportedly killed or unhorsed several opponents at Bosworth, was significantly physically disadvantaged.

Since Richard’s scoliosis was not visible and not disabling, it is also unlikely that it caused self-loathing or other psychological or emotional defects. This explains a contradiction in his psychological portrait which puzzled its authors. The psychological analysis predates that of his spine and assumes that the scoliosis would have been very visible and difficult to disguise. The psychologists therefore expected Richard to have struggled with interpersonal relationships in his adult life as he would have found it hard to establish trust, but couldn’t find any evidence for this in historical accounts. On the contrary, they concluded that “he seemed remarkably able to engender and build trust with the people with whom he worked.”[^5].

Indeed, it is difficult to see how he could have established himself as Edward IV’s Lieutenant of the North if he suffered from serious psychological defects. Given the bitter divide between the Yorkist south and the Lancastrian north, this was not an easy task. Only 10 years earlier, Yorkist propaganda had accused northerners of “slaying and maiming liegeman in such detestable cruelness as has not been heard done among Saracens and Turks to Christian men”[^6] and no doubt their northern counterparts harboured similar prejudices against southerners. Richard moved to Yorkshire at age 19 and adolescent onset scoliosis sets in between age 10-13, so it would have already been present. As the multi-isotope analysis shows, it is unlikely that he developed strong emotional or social ties during his wardship, so far from enjoying a nostalgic homecoming he was planted into hostile territory and “had to win round the political elites in the aftermath of Warwick the Kingmaker’s downfall. He had not been then the expected or natural heir.”[^7] Nevertheless, he managed to build “one of the great affinities of the Middle Ages, both in scale and cohesion.”[^8]. To accomplish this he would have needed all his wits and it is highly improbable that he suddenly lost them when he became king.

Combining all of the above, the picture that emerges of Richard III is that of an able-bodied and psychologically stable young man, who was as competent on the battlefield as he was in the council chamber and who wasn’t any more feared or hated than other rulers of his time. Some may find this hard to accept, but bones don’t lie. Richard is talking to us and after 500 years of questioning his every word and action it’s time we started listening to him.

Citations:

[^1]: Paul Murray Kendall: “Richard III”, London 1955

[^2]: A.J. Pollard: “Richard’s childhood home?”, The Ricardian Bulletin, December 2013

[^3]: Polydore Vergil: “Anglica Historia”, http://newr3.dreamhosters.com/?page_id=248

[^4]: Channel 4: “Richard III: The New Evidence”, August 2014 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/richard-iii-the-new-evidence/4od

[^5]: Mark Lansdale & Julian Boon: “Richard III – A Psychological Portrait”, The Ricardian Bulletin, March 2013 http://www.richardiii.net/2_6_riii_psychological.php

[^6]: James Ross: “The battle of Towton – a 550-year retrospective”, National Archives, 15 July 2011 http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/the-battle-of-towton-a-550-year-retrospective-2/

[^7]: A.J. Pollard: “Richard, the North and the Historians”, website of the Richard III Society http://www.richardiii.net/2_3_0_riii_leadership.php

[^8]: Rosemary Horrox: “Richard III: A Study of Service”, Cambridge 1989

Sources:

Angela L. Lamb et al: “Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III”, Journal of Archaeological Science, August 2014 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440314002428

Jo Appleby et al: “The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance”, The Lancet, Volume 383, Issue 9932, Page 1944, 31 May 2014 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60762-5/fulltext

Jo Appleby et al: “Perimortem trauma in King Richard III: a skeletal analysis”, The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 17 September 2014 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60804-7/fulltext

Jane Evans: “Richard III: the Isotope Analysis”, The Ricardian Bulletin, December 2014

Piers D. Mitchell et al: “The intestinal parasites of King Richard III”, The Lancet, 4 September 2013 http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2961757-2/fulltext

Lin Foxhall et al: “What does the discovery of Richard III’s remains mean for history?”, BBC History Magazine, 14 March 2013 http://www.historyextra.com/richardiiidiscovery

Alex David: “Alison Weir on the Real Richard III”, Happy and Glorious, 24 March 2013 http://happyandgloriousblog.blogspot.com.br/2013/03/alison-weir-on-real-richard-iii.html (endorsed and linked on http://alisonweir.org.uk/books/bookpages/more-princes-in-tower.asp)

An Appropriate Design!

In November I took part in the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words over the month of November and I succeeded! As a reward those who ‘win’ get a link where they can buy the year’s winners’ T-shirt, so I bought it. This is the design this year – I think it is appropriate considering I was writing about Richard III and part of it includes the Battle of Bosworth, where he fights against Henry Tudor. Richard wears the shining armour (note the crown and the ‘Sun in Splendour’ device above his head!) and Tudor is the dragon – his emblem was the Welsh dragon..!  The novel is goning through its editing stage and should be completed in spring 2015

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Picture of Winners' T-shirt for National Novel Writing Month

Design of the NaNoWriMo Winners’ T-Shirt

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.

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