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Richard was a brave, educated and progressive monarch….

Richard from Shropshire Star

from Shropshire Star

Peter Rhodes, who wrote this article for the Shropshire Star, is favourable toward Richard III. So I’m favourable toward Peter Rhodes. Of course!

“….AND off to Bosworth Battlefield for a glorious sunny day in a strikingly pretty corner of Leicestershire. Here in 1485 our last Plantagenet king, Richard III, was slain by Henry Tudor’s soldiers, stripped, chucked on the back of a horse and carried off to Leicester where they buried him in a car park. If you believe Shakespeare, Richard was a malevolent hunchbacked thug who murdered all and sundry, including the “Princes in the Tower”. But Shakespeare was a blatant spin-doctor for the Tudors. Most scholars now accept that Richard was a brave, educated and progressive monarch whose claim to the throne was stronger than the Welshman Henry Tudor’s….”


“Looking for a Straight Spine”


A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”


To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.


I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.


King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.


Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:


“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”


In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:


Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          


The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.


The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:


“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”


It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.


“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”


Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.


On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.


In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.


The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.


I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.


Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.

Signs of the Times – the Handwriting of Richard III

I have recently reread an interesting book about analysing handwriting and have had fun playing about with my friends’ writing and seeing if their handwriting matches their characters; it mainly does.

So, being interested in Richard III, I thought I would (just for fun) have a go at analysing his writing at different times in his life and see if I could get any insight into the man.

I know there have been others who analysed his writing, one of which I know concluded that he suffered with depression. I have used what I learned in the book (link to follow) but also added some of my own thoughts. There are some aspects which puzzle me and I will leave these open for discussion. First of all, let me make it clear, once again, that this is purely for fun. Also, you will understand that, as mediaeval writing differs quite a bit from modern writing, there are some aspects which might be confused or difficult to interpret because of that. For example, the letters are generally written in a more angular way, in that the rounded letters (a, o, p, d, etc) are squarer. Perhaps this is because of the writing implements used, but interestingly, the more sharp and angular the writing the less soft and more aggressive the character is. Well, we all know what a generally violent and aggressive period of history it was; maybe their writing reflected that.

Looking at Richard’s writing, let us first examine his earliest known signature, written in about 1465, with the motto ‘Tant le Desiree’ in one of his books on chivalry.

Signature of Richard III


We can see the angular ‘o’ I mentioned and the generally angular script, but I think it is quite a flowing hand compared to some others of the times, which suggests to me that Richard was more merciful than the norm. The signature is larger than the rest of the writing (which is about the same size as the motto), showing that Richard was confident in his own identity and importance. Another obvious aspect of this signature is that it is very clear and legible. We all know people who sign their names illegibly, and it was no different then. Just look at this signature:

Warwick sigCan you decipher it? I will tell you whose it is later. But returning to Richard, the legible nature of his signature shows he is not hiding anything! If you disguise your signature you are trying to hide an aspect of yourself. Richard’s is very much ‘What you see is what you get’. See the way he has crossed the ‘ts’ in ‘tant’ from the vertical stem more to the right than the left; as we write from left to right, left corresponds to the past, which suggests that he is forward thinking rather than dwelling on the past, or he might prefer not to think about the past.

Notice that the level of the writing is slightly upward moving (as is the second signature), showing, far from depression, a positive outlook. This can change according to one’s mood. Check you own writing the next time you feel down to see if it is going downhill too.

There is quite large spacing between each word and between the ‘R’ and the ‘Gloucestre’, revealing that Richard needs to be alone at times.

Look at the clear ‘o’s and ‘a’s in his writing – they are the communication letters. They are clear and well-formed, and firmly closed. This means Richard was a good communicator and that he was the kind of person who could keep a confidence.

Now look at the hard, heavy downward stroke of the ‘s’ in Gloucestre; this shows he could have a temper at times.

Looking at the upper zone (where the tall letters and capitals extend above the level of the ‘o’s and ‘a’s), they are generally more than twice the height of the ‘o’s – this shows his intellectual abilities, which must have been considerable.

Now, in the book the author is mainly analysing criminals’ and murderers’ writing and she comments that often their weapon of choice appears in their writing subconsciously. Since we know that they all had weapons and it was very violent in those times, I suppose it’s no surprise to see weapon-shaped letters in Richard’s writing (as in others’ of the times): look at the ‘s’ again, in Gloucestre – does it look like a dagger? But what is that little scribbly thing at the end? A flower? A rose? Considering the nature of the book it appears in, perhaps it’s a lady’s favour on the end of a lance?

There are no lower zone letters present in this snippet (I’m not counting the ‘s’ since it doesn’t go below the line in modern script, nor does it have a ‘tail’, like a ‘g’ or ‘y’), so I am unable to analyse his sexual inclinations at this juncture.

Let us move on to the next sample:

Signatures J Say

Here, we see his signature is more confident and firm, but look at the huge space between the ‘R’ and ‘Gloucestre’! He has a great need for solitude, reinforced by the greater spaces in the bulk of the P.S. than in the main part of the letter (written by a scribe or secretary).

His high intellect is still apparent, shown by the long ‘l’ in Gloucestre and the high part of the ‘u’s. Here we can see his lower zone (lower parts of ‘g’ and ‘y’) and it balances out the higher zone well, showing he had a keen interest and capacity for sex. As he was about 16 or 17 when this was written (1469), it is hardly surprising!

His communication letters are again well-formed and clear and his signature legible. His signature is about the same size as the rest of the letter, showing he was no arrogant or considered himself superior to the recipient.

Look at the ‘p’ in ‘pray’; can you see the down stroke which extends above the rounded part of it? This is called a ‘pugilistic p’ and indicates an argumentative nature. We know he argued eloquently against his brother George over his marriage to Anne and the Neville estates, so this is probably correct.

See the letter ‘I’ – this is important as ‘I’ represents your own identity and can reflect your relationships with your parents. The upper part of the ‘I’ represents the mother relationship and the lower the father link. As you can see, Richard’s upper part of the ‘I’ is large and curved, showing he had a normal and positive relationship with his mother, but the lower part is minimal and dwindling off, which indicates a distant or unknown father – we know Richard’s father was killed when he was eight, so he wouldn’t have had a deep relationship with him.

Next sample:

Richard sig 1471-75This occurred in 1471-75. By this time, Richard had fought in two battles and been wounded himself. He had considerable success in this and this must have increased his confidence, – see how large his signature is now?

Also, note the large ‘X’ over the letter ‘G’ in Gloucester? There are also other, less distinct ‘x’s in the ‘R’ and the ‘st’ combination. ‘X’s in the signature indicate a preoccupation with death. After his experiences in the bloody battles and subsequent executions of Barnet and Tewkesbury, is it any wonder death would be an ever-present thought and fear? You will find ‘x’s in many mediaeval signatures, which should surprise no-one, as death was always just around the corner then, and not such a taboo subject as it is now.

Additionally, you can see his ‘R’ and ‘Gloucestre’ are closer together than before and his letters are leaning a little more to the right. This indicates that he was happier in company with others now – perhaps because of the camaraderie of the soldier?

The ‘o’s are still clear, his communication skills undiminished and direct. However, the signature as a whole is a bit more indistinct and, though not illegible, it is more difficult to decipher. Is he learning how to keep back certain parts of his persona? Finally, look again at the initial ‘R’; does it remind you of an axe? A battleaxe? An executioner’s axe? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that!

Next, from 1478:

Richard sig 1478This is essentially very similar to the previous one, but note the broken line in the top of the ‘G’? I think he was suffering from a headache when he wrote this.

Next, from ‘that time’ in 1483, this was the signature which was one of three with Edward V and the Duke of Buckingham:

Richad III sig

This signature is notably more legible than the previous few and includes his first name. Also apparent is his motto, Loyaulte Me Lie, which we all know. This shows he was sincere and open – we are back to ‘what you see is what you get’.

His communication letters are still clear; his signature is not much larger than the motto, showing his lack of any great ambition.

Note the bracket/squiggle connecting the motto and the name, reinforcing the link and underlying the fact that this motto is sincerely held by Richard. Plus there are no ‘x’s or ‘axes’.

However, look at the ‘m’ in ‘me’ and the ‘h’ in ‘Richard’ – see the extra strokes on the left side of them? They are resentment strokes.   Did he resent that he wasn’t king? Or having to babysit the new king? The end of his normal life in Yorkshire? The interference of the Woodvilles? I suggest the latter.

The next samples are from when he was king. Here is the first which is from his letter to the Archbishop asking for the seal so he can put down Buckingham’s rebellion. He wrote the postscript himself having found out about Buckingham’s betrayal and is the one where he calls him ‘the most untrue creature living’.

letter re BuckinghamThe first things to notice are the large numbers of heavy, downward strokes which indicate his anger – he was furious! I don’t know if the ink blots were his too, but if they were that serves to reinforce the violent emotions coursing through him. There are also pugilistic ‘p’s and resentment marks galore too (look for extra strokes at the beginnings of letters that shouldn’t have them – ‘m’s, ‘h’s, ‘y’s, ‘n’s).

I think he was writing quickly and urgently, which has made the writing much less legible than normal for him.

His usual script shows great self-control and I think he ‘lost it’ here.

Next, from1484 – A Venetian document:

Richard III sigSee how large and showy it is – it is for public consumption and he wants to be perceived as powerful and strong.

The ‘axe’ is back! He is not to be trifled with.

The communication letters remain clearly defined and his intelligence is again emphasised. The upright nature of it shows he is again in control of himself.


Letter to Cecily See the difference here; the signature is much smaller and less angular and the letters are of more consistent size. This is a private letter he wrote to his mother Cecily.

I believe he loved his mother, indicated by the rounded, flowing writing.

He also respected her, because his signature was the same size as the body of the letter – he signs himself ‘your most humble son’ and again links this to his name – he means it – his signature is humble.

And see the ‘I’s again – look how large the loops are coming down from the top (the mother area): they come right down into the father area, perhaps showing that his mother is all he has left – his father is gone and she represents both parents.

The words are now very close together and leaning more to the right – he is close to his mother and shows his feelings more with her.

There are still some resentment marks, but I feel this is a general thing with him now – he had quite a lot to resent by this time.

I don’t see depression even here – the lines of writing are going uphill rather than down. The pressure is even, showing no anger here.

He mentions Collyngbourne, (fifth line up from the bottom, on the left) who was hanged, drawn and quartered for treason – do you see anything like a scaffold in his name?!

Well, that is my interpretation for your entertainment – as you can see I have used my imagination and intuition a lot. Perhaps you can notice some other traits in the various samples – if so, please comment.

Oh and who was the second signature? It was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

The book I enjoyed reading about analysing handwriting is: Sex Lies and Handwriting

Apologies to the author if I have misinterpreted anything and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Coming to Know Richard III: The Fictional Character vs. The Actual Man


“Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass.”
~Jonathan Kellerman

In the late 80s, I made the acquaintance of a classically trained British actor. Born in Guernsey, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for three years, from 1942 to 1945. Until I learned that he and his fellow prisoners were forced to perform Shakespeare before the guards, and that the guards had demanded he take the female roles, I did not understand his groundedness, his wicked sense of humor, his unspoken but clear compassion for a friend who had been abused in certain ways during her youth, and his unfailing attitude of, “I’ve seen bad, and this isn’t it.”

Until we know someone’s past, we can’t understand him. We also can’t know what he cares about or what motivates him.

While developing Richard as a character for multiple novels, and wanting to make him different in each novel, I realized that both historians and writers of fiction already see him and his motivations as if through a glass prism or a spectroscope. Some might argue that Shakespeare is to blame for the archetypal Machiavellian villain many think of when they think of Richard, but the human need to shoebox and categorize things and people, and the majority’s willingness to accept a traditional category without personally researching its historical validity likely have more to do with what the average person thinks about Richard…if the average person ever thinks about Richard.

Will the Real Richard III Please Step Forward?

In Richard’s case, we know some events of his life, but we do not know which events were meaningful enough to him to have helped shape who he was.

The major historical events are known and can be traced. Only occasionally can Richard’s reactions be traced, and we are entirely ignorant as to his motivations even when we think we know his motivations. But a plethora of writers – both of history and of fiction – have looked at the events Richard lived through or participated in, and they’ve gone on to decide what was important to him, and why. And so it is that most who have bothered to write about Richard have assigned subjective motivations to him.

It’s doubtful this will ever change because the temptation is too strong in most people for them to resist overlaying their personal feelings and reactions in response to the historical events that affected Richard or his contemporaries. A problem occurs when one writer accuses another writer’s reasoning as “wrong” when there can be no proven “right” answers to the mysteries in Richard’s life. Some people seem to forget the mysteries are many. Things like “What happened to the princes in the Tower?” and, “Did Edward IV marry Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville?” and, “What did Anne Neville die of? What did Edward of Middleham die of?” will always remain mysteries. Some people seem to forget that, too.

It can be fun to debate the points and possibilities, but many of us don’t know how to have fun debating. Many of us don’t even know how to debate. As the old Goon Show line goes, “I’m not saying she’s insane, but she leaves her premises immediately.”[i]

YOUR Richard is Too Hot, Cold, Romantic, Incestuous, Weak, Murderous, Tender, Loving, Psychotic, Paternal, Devoted, Comical, Tedious, Arrogant, Sneaky, and I Love/Hate Him, So Nyah!

When a writer of fiction uses Richard as a character, the writer makes certain subjective decisions about the character which are dictated by the story the writer wishes to tell. The Richard a writer creates is his or her own interpretation of the man, and the events and people in the real Richard’s life influence that interpretation as the story demands. A romantic novel featuring Anne Neville and Richard would focus on different events and character actions and reactions than an historical novel featuring Richard training as a squire to become a knight under the Earl of Warwick’s men.

No fictional Richard-construction is “better” or “worse” than any other. As Oscar Wilde said, “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.” If you don’t like a particular flavor of tea, you can be nice and leave the pot for others to enjoy. You might even wander off to create your own flavor of Richard-tea. In any case, your flavor of Richard-tea is over there safely shelved on your bookshelf or still in your head. No one has messed with him, and you’re free to drink him up as you like.

MY Historical Rendition of Richard is The Definitive Version, Full Stop, Forevah! I’ll Snarl at Anyone Who Says Otherwise, So Nyah!

When a professional or amateur historian writes about history, he or she usually takes a position regarding their subject, and they back up their stance by interpreting historical events. (When you find an historian who’s neutral, send them roses, thank them profusely, and buy everything they’ve written. New. Yes, from that expensive university or independent press.) In the case of someone like Winston Churchill, there’s a plethora of contemporary source material, and the subject’s reactions and motivations are on record, so the historian has only to extrapolate Churchill’s reactions and motivations. But then, Churchill knew he was making history. Richard III didn’t. He was likely only trying to survive and take care of what mattered to him…like thousands of other people, noble and commoner, around him. (See what I did there? Create motivations for R3’s actions and other people’s actions, too? See how easy it is?)

In the case of Richard III, contemporary source material is so sparse, it’s not possible for anyone to reliably extrapolate Richard’s reactions and motivations, so contradictory interpretations are inevitable and multiple from the 15th century long into the future.

Every historian writing about Richard forms and expresses his or her opinions and theories without being able to provide definitive proofs to convince their audience because definitive proofs do not exist in Richard’s case.There is evidence. There is probability. Good writers weigh both, but ultimately nothing but conjecture is possible where his reactions and motivations are concerned because the king’s skeleton was not found clutching a thick tome in its bony fingers that contained its owner’s private thoughts in neat middle English, and no archive has yet yielded same.

So whenever a professional or amateur analyst of Richard III, his life and his times, expounds on Richard’s personal motivations and goes on to offer definitive answers to any of the myriad mysteries regarding him, they’re actually expounding on what their own imagination has come up with. So unless an historical writer or blogger confines themselves to the known facts and doesn’t venture into the realm of, “Richard did X because he felt Y,” it’s all conjecture…unless someone has a direct line to the Unseen Realm and to Richard, or to the elusive Akashic Records. And if they do, I wish they’d bottle and sell it so the rest of us can play, too.

All we can do as The Audience is apply or not apply critical thinking to what we read and hear regarding Richard. If all we do is absorb the opinions and theories of others, then we have no studied, deliberate theories or opinions of our own. And that’s sad, and perhaps lazy of us. But then I wonder…how many of us have been taught critical-thinking skills?

Shakespeare Knew How to Have Fun with His Duke of Gloucester

Like it or not, Richard III as a character in fiction is forever fair game. He’s also a wonderful character to play with. You can let your imagination run riot to create a romance, a comedy, or a tragedy with him, and no one can tell you that you’re wrong to do so. (Actually, they will tell you, but you’re free to pity the Mrs. Grundys of the world for missing out on all the fun while you go back to playing with him and irritating them.)

In Richard’s real life, events continued shaping who he was throughout his life. It’s the same with us as well, but in fiction a writer will assign a character only one (1) meaningful life event. That one event helps the reader to understand the character, know what he cares about, and know what motivates him. The meaningful event is also the foundation for:

  1.  What the character wants
  2.  What choices the character makes when he’s stressed
  3.  The story’s theme

When the writer chooses the meaningful event carefully and uses it to their best advantage, they’re able to manipulate their audience’s emotions and reactions. This is great fun, hopefully for the audience as much as for the writer — if the writer does it right.

Shakespeare’s audience couldn’t claim they weren’t warned as to his Richard’s Meaningful Event, since the Bard has the Duke of Gloucester lay it all out in the soliloquy opening “Richard III.” What’s amazing is that this particular Meaningful Event was created full-cloth in Tudor times, by Tudor writers, and traditional historians have taken it as religious historical dogma ever since. It took Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill, a whole lot of money from a whole lot of international Richard supporters, and Richard’s voice speaking from beyond the grave through his bones to offer the definitive proof that hey, he wasn’t at all as the Tudor writers (*cough* Thomas More, the Croyland Chronicle, etc. etc. etc.) and Old Willie presented him. And if the Tudors and Willie were wrong about Richard’s physical attributes, the next question to ask is: What else did they get wrong about him?

Lie to Me Once, Shame on You. Lie to Me Twice, and I’ll Never Believe Another Thing You Tell Me

When a witness on the stand in a court trial lies about one thing, their entire testimony is thrown out. They also instantly become a defendant, and they can be put on trial for perjury. So it is with Tudor propaganda. Once you catch a Tudor chronicler in one lie, their entire chronicle – down to the smallest detail – is suspect.

But hey, back to Shakespeare and the fun he had creating his Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

What Meaningful Event Does Shakespeare Assign His Version of Richard?

Shakespeare’s character is physically deformed and unfinished, lame and unfashionable. Even the dogs bark at him when he stops near them. (Or, as Gollum more succinctly put it in the screenplay of The Two Towers, to himself about himself, “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.”)

Shakespeare uses Richard’s physical deformity as the foundation for:

WHAT Richard WANTS: To be a subtle, false, and treacherous villain because he can’t be a lover.

WHAT CHOICES HE MAKES WHEN HE’S STRESSED: When play opens, Richard has already laid plots to make his brothers hate each other. The play goes on to reveal his other, rather nasty choices. Was he under stress before the play began, or after? You can argue either way.

THE PLAY’S THEME: Various themes apply, so take your pick as they relate to Richard’s meaningful event. (There are other possible themes beyond these.)

  • Mortal Justice vs. Divine Justice
  • Free Will vs. Fate – “Divine Providence” to Renaissance audiences
  • Time – Richard seems to have the ability to speed up time. This is seen to work for him, but in the end it works against him.
  • Manipulation – He manipulates the audience as well as the other characters.
  • Power – Getting it. Holding onto it. Shakespeare’s Richard is portrayed, not as the medieval warlord he was, but as a Renaissance “Machievel” – someone who will do anything to get in power and stay in power.
  • Physical Deformity Reflects Moral Deformity — doesn’t much apply today, but aligns with the 16th-century belief system

You Too Can Have Fun with Richard

Wanna start creating your own Richard? It’s not hard, so why not have a go? If you don’t want to create your own, you could pull out your favorite novel that features him and see what the writer used to underlay Richard’s story goal, the choices he made during stressful times, and the story’s theme.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to select a meaningful event from Richard’s real life. The event should have happened before your story begins. It should also create ongoing suspense within your reader. You want them to ask and keep asking, “What’s Richard going to do next, and why?”

Story suspense depends on conflict and suffering, so the event you select must be traumatic – a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury, something that deeply wounded Richard. There are so many possibilities to choose from in his life, I’m not going to list examples. Part of the fun is making a list of possibilities for yourself and deciding which one to use.

The outcome of the event that wounded Richard should have created two or three specific things within him. Here are the three specific outcomes you’re looking for, compliments of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.

  1. The wound should leave the character with a need so intense, he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  2. The wound should leave the character with a weakness, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  3. The wound may also gift the character with a heroic strength that increases his determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.[ii]

If what you’ve chosen doesn’t create at least two things from this list, select another traumatic, meaningful event from Richard’s life.

The next time you run into the historical Richard or a fictional version (or both wrapped into one work), see if you can identify the meaningful event the writer is using to drive their version of the man. If you can’t identify their premise…I’m not saying they’re insane. Only that their work may be badly written.


[i] Premise, also premiss. Logic. A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. If you’d like to search “The Goon Show” radio scripts for the line, some are here: … Good luck with that if you’re not a fan of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et. al. and their brand of humor. And if your first response was, “What’s a goon show?”, fuggedaboudit.

[ii] Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, Perigree, New York, 2004, p. 87.


Who really won at Bosworth? (by Katherine Newman-Warren)

I think increasingly it is Richard who has ultimately gained the greater victory. Henry won temporal power and died in his bed but Richard has gained a kind of immortality that Henry could never hope to achieve and went down fighting as a warrior king with the symbols of his kingship on his body. If a king is a symbol for his people then Richard has become, for so many, the embodiment of courage against the odds, of survival and endurance and also of human frailty and loss. As Bishop Tim said the ‘Richard’ effect touches people around the world. They are prepared to embrace him in all his flawed complexity, knowing that his choices were hard and his options limited, understanding that he was born into a bloody civil war where personal tragedies were common place and strength was often manifested in the ability to stay alive long enough to grow to manhood. People see their own struggles and setbacks in his story. They can forgive him his mistakes and bad judgements because they recognize their own faults and failings in his but they are no longer willing to swallow distortions and lies without probing these arguments for the truth which is always a rainbow of motivations and a shifting sea of morality. Our reaction to his story dares us to be wise, to understand that moral judgement from the comfort of an armchair and a place of safety is rarely justifiable and that given the same pressures we might have done worse and likely no better than he managed. They understand the enormity of his grief at the loss of his child and what crushing responsibility he shouldered alone in the last year of his life and they will continue to remember him long after the media frenzy moves on to find fresh meat. The Director of the RSC said this week that without Shakespeare Richard would have neither the notoriety nor support that he has enjoyed and in one sense I can accept this. People don’t like injustice and in the modern world, they are disgusted by prejudice based on disability. Shakespeare’s Richard is persuasive and charismatic in a way that the real Richard was perhaps not, despite his Plantagenet bloodline, but he is without regret or remorse and I don’t believe that Richard didn’t agonise over his decisions or regret his mistakes. The anxiety of his piety suggests rather the opposite and makes him real and pitiable as we all are.

The king in the middle….

Henry Seven JPEG

Is there a case for giving Henry VII a thumbs up? I put this “disloyal” question while wearing my very best Ricardian hat, and I put it after noticing a number of recent, very well-deserved comments about his odious son and successor, Henry VIII.

We all know what a fine man Richard was, and nothing will ever shake our faith in him, unless his diary turns up with “I am guilty of every charge, including my nephews”, signed Ricardus Rex, in his own unmistakeably neat, educated hand. Well, that will never happen, save Henry VII’s Smear Machine having managed to produce an almost perfect fake. Henry wasn’t above such a thing, of course, because whatever else he was, he was very clever. And utterly determined to hang on to his stolen throne.

But throughout his reign he lived with the threat of the House of York returning. No matter how many fibs he spread about Richard having, among other things, eliminated the sons of Edward IV, there was no proof. No bodies. No closure. Henry worried about this from 22nd August 1485 onward, and I am sure it eventually put paid to his health. He died quite wretchedly, albeit in his own bed. Hooray for the wretchedness, say most Ricardians.

But what sort of man was he really? Well, ‘mean’ is probably one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. He would claw in every last coin, or what was left of every last coin, and was none too fussy about how he did it. “The king was in his counting house, counting out his money” is how the old nursery rhyme goes, and it’s almost certainly about Henry. Or so I’ve always understood. Similarly, “The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey” is about his wife, Elizabeth of York. So, the cruel miser was stashing his ill-gotten gains, while his plump, empty-headed wife lived the high life. This is the rhyme’s implication.

After ‘mean’, comes lying, conniving, cruel, conscienceless, ambitious, and various other unflattering observations. He also made an art form about making his appearance intimidating to all those who came into his presence. And with his height, slenderness and strange eyes, I imagine he had the same mesmerising effect as a cobra just before it strikes. He had it all worked out, but then he had to. How else could he banish the charm of those Yorkist kings he replaced? He used fear, which is always a successful weapon.

By the time he died, he really was a nasty piece of work. It was no longer a façade. Everyone was hugely relieved to bury him and then turn to his dazzling son, Henry Tudor Mark II, whom they probably hoped would resurrect the charm of the House of York. Spring and summer after autumn and a decidedly bitter winter. Except Mark II didn’t live up to expectations, but turned into an infinitely worse tyrant than his father. Henry VII left a realm that was safe and settled, with bulging coffers. But he had not quite eradicated the threat of the House of York, so Henry VIII also had to deal with the tiresome White Rose. He did. Ruthlessly. And on top of that he thought nothing of chopping off the heads of two of his six queens. Among the heads of many others, of course. Oh, and he also emptied the coffers.

Can anyone imagine Henry VII behaving quite like this? Yes, he chopped off heads, they all did then, but he was also surprisingly restrained at times. And if Elizabeth of York had failed to produce any children, needing replacement by a more fruitful model, would he have made false charges against her? Treason? Having surrendered her all to her uncle, Richard III? Of course, by doing this he would almost certainly have caused another rebellion, this time likely to be only too successful. Many only put up with him as king because of his Yorkist queen. Henry wasn’t daft, so he wouldn’t have done it. Nor did he have to, because Elizabeth gave him the heirs he needed. Phew, Henry’s luck held. But he was a conventional man and conventional Christian. I can’t imagine Henry Mark I ever creating such a monumental upheaval as to challenge Rome, let alone sever all links with it.

After Bosworth, I think he would have done almost anything for a quiet life. Chop off Elizabeth of York’s head? Ye gods. No, he would have done what Richard did before him, and selected an heir. Who? That’s for another day, I think. Has anyone any idea who might have become a childless Henry VII’s heir . . . ? Of course, if he had been childless, he would have been faced with increasingly effective challenges from the House of York, and probably wouldn’t have made it to 1509 anyway.

So, there he is, sandwiched between Richard III and Henry VIII, seeming almost anonymous to our modern eyes. Richard arouses huge emotion and loyalty, and has immense support even now in the 21st century. Henry VIII we view aghast. He’s horribly fascinating, a monster in every sense of the word. And then there’s Henry VII, who hung on to the throne from 1485 until 1509 and established the House of Tudor. Most people now know diddly-squat about him. Henry who? Oh, the one who killed that King Richard they’ve just buried in Leicester.

But . . . what might Henry have been like if all threat from the House of York had ended at Bosworth. No challenges, no sneaky pretenders lurking across the Channel, just a realm to be reigned over. Or plundered. It depends upon the real Henry. And I doubt we will ever discover him. He was moulded by events, he did not mould them. So Mummy Margaret’s real little boy is lost somewhere in between. I’d loved to know, but never will.

My question at the beginning was whether we could give Henry VII a thumbs up of any sort. Well, in some ways he has to be given some credit. In others, oh dear. He was a very pale shadow of his predecessor. Richard’s charisma reaches down through the centuries, as does the increasing awareness of just how much good he would have done had he been allowed to live. He had the people’s welfare at heart, and would have been loved. Henry had Henry’s welfare at heart. And he produced Henry VIII, for which it’s hard to forgive him. Ditto Edward VI and Mary Tudor. I can forgive him for Elizabeth I, but only because her Yorkist blood gets full credit!

So, in the end, with some reservations, I have to give Henry VII a thumbs down. I wish it were not so, because if he had proved to be a truly great king, it might at least have made the sacrifice of Richard a little more bearable. Henry wasn’t a truly great king, he was unpleasant and introduced all the terrible things we associate with the House of Tudor. That makes Richard’s loss all the more painful and tragic.

Eulogy for Richard III

Today, we observe the 529th anniversary of King Richard III’s death on Redemore Plain. It is a sad day, full of grief for those of us who believe that he was a good and just King, a man of multiple dimensions, a loving husband, a tender father, a dutiful son and brother, and a man of civic and spiritual virtue.

We mourn the loss of a human life, as all life is sacred, but also the loss of a particularly noble and heroic life cut down in its prime at age 32 during a savage and brutal battle.

I can’t help but think that when Richard acceded to the Throne of England in 1483, just over two years prior to his death, he might have found the words of Petrarch, in his Epistolae metricae, to be particularly relevant:

“Living, I despise what melancholy fate
has brought us wretches in these evil years.
Long before my birth time smiled and may again,
for once there was, and yet will be, more joyful days.
But in this middle age time’s dregs
sweep around us, and we beneath a heavy
load of vice. Genius, virtue, glory now
have gone, leaving chance and sloth to rule.
Shameful vision this! We must awake or die!”

The summons to “awake” or to be born anew is something that I believe Richard might have held as a lodestar for his service as a son of York, Duke of Gloucester, and later King of England. For this reason, I see Richard as exemplifying all the aspects of a “Renaissance man” – for the word renaissance means “rebirth”. And, coincidentally, Richard was born in the same year as Leonardo de Vinci, 1452.

Therefore, rather than contemplating the tragedy of his untimely and bitter death, I choose to speak of his Renaissance qualities. It is especially poignant now, because his Earthly remains have been recovered from a very humble grave and there is a rebirth of interest in this figure from distant history. We have a choice. We can focus on the horrors of his last minutes of life, the brutal humiliations suffered by his corpse, and the lowliness of his grave. Or we can focus on his joyful days, his love of justice and virtue, his appreciation for books and music, his love of family and friends, and his enduring love of God. It was a life that did not indulge simply in the flattery of rich and powerful men, but sought to be the Ideal Prince. A Renaissance Prince.

One of the great art works of the Renaissance was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the years 1338-1339 in the Italian Republic of Siena. The colorful frescoes are painted in the Gothic style and they are located in the great Council Room in the Town Hall. There are six different scenes, and they are called Allegory of Good Government, Allegory of Bad Government, Effects of Bad Government in the City, Effects of Good Government in the City and Effects of Good Government in the Country. It was certainly an attempt by an early Italian Renaissance painter to give a pictorial representation of what were considered virtues and vices in the early Renaissance.

Like the Wars of the Roses in England in the 15th century, the 14th century was a turbulent time for politics in the Italian city-states. There were constant violent party struggles; governments were overthrown, and governments were reinstated. Common people suffered, but carried on. The frescoes painted by Lorenzetti promoted the morality of government and provided a constant reminder for the council to remain just leaders by showing them a comprehensive cause-and-effect situation of corrupt, tyrannical governing in comparison to that of virtuous governing.

I will only speak about one of those panels: The Allegory of Good Government. It depicts civic officers and magistrates, who are all bound by the scales of Justice. Above them, are floating bodiless ghosts of the virtues. Wisdom sits above the head of the Commune of Siena. He sits upon a throne and holds an orb and scepter, symbolizing temporal power. That character is guided by Faith, Hope and Charity. He confers with the proper Virtues necessary for a proper and just ruler. The virtues of Good Government are represented by six crowned, stately female figures: Peace, Fortitude, Prudence, Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice.

The text within the lower border of the image reads: “This holy virtue [Justice], where she rules, induces to unity the many souls [of citizens], and they, gathered together for such a purpose, make the Common Good [ben commune] their Lord; and he, in order to govern his state, chooses never to turn his eyes from the resplendent faces of the Virtues who sit around him. Therefore to him in triumph are offered taxes, tributes, and lordship of towns; therefore, without war, every civic result duly follows – useful, necessary, and pleasurable.”

Let’s talk about Richard and the virtue of Peace. He took the Crown by a mechanism that did not require the blood of England’s common people to be smeared on a battlefield. He used the bloodless instrument of Parliament to justify his cause and his right to the throne. The Commons petitioned him to be king, and, rather than face a bitter familial and internecine tug-of-war over the governing of a boy-king, he made the courageous step of surrendering his comfortable life as Great Lord of the North, to become King. No battle had been waged by him for his own Crown. All he did was defend it.

Fortitude. This virtue is particularly apt for Richard. As a young child of 7, he suffered an exile to a foreign country, in a land which spoke a foreign tongue to his ear and exercised unfamiliar customs to him. Then, as a teenager, he was again exiled to a foreign place, where he was compelled to be his older brother’s advocate, where he undertook to seek funds for his brother’s invasion of England, where he prostrated himself before burghers in order to outfit a small invading fleet. He suffered horrific storms on the Seas, but did not surrender to their violence. He led his brother’s armies, leading the vanguard, at two heroic battles at Barnet and Tewkesbury. He was only 19 years old, and although he was wounded at Barnet, he proceeded to great accomplishment at Tewkesbury.

Prudence. As Duke of Gloucester, Richard built one of the Greatest Affinities ever known in the Middle Ages, through the exercise of prudence and political caution and skill. He was sensitive to the overweening egos of the houses of Stanley and Percy, and often relinquished positions of power to which he had been entitled by grant of his brother King Edward. He chose, instead, to unify deep divisions that had been ongoing in the Neville house, by unifying their two cadet branches of Salisbury and Warwick into his retinue. As King, he was generous with titles and gifts of office to smaller gentry like the Howards, rewarded the old noble houses like Lovel, and allowed someone like William Catesby, a brilliant lawyer, to come into pre-eminence despite his relatively lowly birth.

Magnanimity. Can we not forget how magnanimous Richard was as King to such dubious characters as Lord Stanley or his wife Margaret Beaufort? Stanley and Beaufort, each with their own agendas which conflicted with Richard’s, were permitted to play dominant roles in his coronation. Even though Margaret could have been stripped of her lands, he preserved them by way of her husband, despite the fact that she had been communicating with her scion, Henry Tudor, in France, undoubtedly for reasons that might have appeared to be just, but – as we know ultimately – for reasons of her own ambition to place him on the Throne. Some say magnanimity was Richard’s Achilles heel; I contend it exemplified the virtue of a true Renaissance man who was willing to give people a second chance.

Temperance. When we think of this virtue, our first thought is of someone who does not over-indulge himself with drink, women, or song. And we know that Richard did not maintain any known liaisons with a mistress while married to Anne Neville, that he was a faithful and loyal husband, and that if he did have any affairs of the heart, they were not brazenly flaunted to his court or to his Queen. But there’s also another dimension to temperance and that is “restraint”. I am speaking of a type of restraint we see in the aspect of religious tolerance. Richard owned a New Testament translated into English: this was likely a heretical possession, but reflects his tolerance of an emerging religious movement that would later provoke the most vile and bloody conflicts and the loss of human life. Also, let us reflect on the fact that Richard extended a Knighthood on a Jewish gentleman, the first of his kind in England, Sir Edward Brampton.

Justice. In his one and only Parliament, Richard sought to extend the hand of blind justice and fair administration of laws in the kingdom. Many of his public statutes sought to redress abuses and corruption committed on a daily basis in the courts, in the marketplace and in the dealing of land. They aimed to protect even the humblest commoner, not just the rich and mighty. His statutes were the first to be proclaimed in English, so that all literate people, and those who understood English, could hear them in their own native tongue, regardless of their schooling in Latin or Legal French. For this, his reputation is unsullied and remained an example for generations to come.

Finally, we come to another profound attribute of the Ideal Renaissance Prince, and that is Pleasure. In neo-Platonic ideals, pleasure is central to human life, as it is emblematic of Man who is neither divine nor animal. Pleasure is within his grasp because he can make his own destiny, formulate a science, appreciate knowledge, and savor his God-given senses through art, music and dance. As one scholar has observed:

“Most of what Renaissance humanists borrowed from Socrates, Plato and Cicero was their happy, natural and wholesome enjoyment of human life. In the refined civilization that was the Renaissance, the humanists believed they were the ancients reincarnate. Their ideal was excellence, moral and intellectual excellence. And the ancient Greeks had a word for this quality: arete. The virtue of excellence and the excellence of virtue. Be healthy in mind and in body. Seek virtue. Live the good life. Explore all potentialities. Serve the civitas. This is the Platonic idea of paideia, what we today call culture.” (Professor Steven Kreis, The History Guide, copyright 2006.)

Richard truly exemplified these ideas. He had a diverse library of books and defended the nascent book printing trade against xenophobic protectionist efforts of his day; his band of minstrels and his choirs were renowned in England for their splendid music-making; he made architectural improvements to his castles and manors not just for defensive purposes but for their aspect of pleasing the senses. He hosted terrific and energetic Christmas feasts, some of which offended the haughty prelates of his day. He relished beautiful jewels, lavished his Queen with luxurious gowns, loved the tales of Chivalry, and spent great sums of money to establish centers of learning at York, Middleham, Barnard Castle, Fotheringhay and Queen’s College at Cambridge. He also spent extravagantly on religious chantries, seeking redemption from Purgatory for his beloved family members and his own soul. All these are characteristics of a Prince who is not only spiritually virtuous, but in thrall to all noble and pleasurable creations of Man.

This is the Richard of my memory. And, today, I want to celebrate these memories. I want him to rest in sweet peace and in remembrance for the brief but deep joys he had when walking the Earth. I want to celebrate his virtues, his mercy, and his sense of fair play and plain dealing. And his love for beautiful things.

Rest in peace, Richard, and may the Angels sing you a Glorious Requiem and greet you with open arms at the Gate of Heaven, Noble Prince.

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