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A guest post by Iris

Re: “Richard the Mourner”:

I tend to agree with layers of unsubstantiated myth building century after century, including Richard’s butchering his way to the crown (4 executions against over 20.000 dead on the field only at Towton to put his brother Edward on the throne, indeed a pale imitation of a larger than life example of real Plantagenet ambition.) As for the issue you are addressing here, as you well remind us all the Crowland continuator, writing some 2 years after Richard’s own “funeral” and under Tudor’s regime, while amply (and I may add with no shred of a contemporary record to substantiate his statements) disserting on Richard’s incestous marriage plans only mentioned Anne was buried at Westminster with no less honors than befitted the interment of a queen.

However, just ONE DAY after Richard’s public refutal of the rumours he had poisoned his wife to marry his niece, the Court minutes of the Mercers’ Company report his speech at St John’s Hospital on 30 March with these words: “Addressing them ‘in a loud and distinct voice’, “he ‘showed his grief and displeasure aforesaid and said it never came into his thought or mind to marry in such manner wise, nor willing nor glad of the death of his queen but as sorry and in heart as heavy as man might be.” Now “‘showed his grief and displeasure” refers to body language, not words and speculations that it might refer to tears over the death of his wife do not seem to be so extraordinary to me. So at least in this occasion there is evidence suggesting some sort of phisical display of sorrow was caught by the audience attending this very unusual official speech. I do not know what others do when they are sad about the death of a close relative, I usually cry, I cannot see why another human being whatever his status should not do the same.

As far as Richard is concerned, this public display would not even have been the first one. The Crowland Chronicler, despite his evident dislike of the man and almost rejoicing on the divine punishment God had sent by taking Richard’s only legitimate son and heir away, also reports how, “on hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief”. Now, again I do not luckily know what losing my only child means, I tend to say it’s generally considered a tragedy and Richard and Anne seem to have reacted accordingly as human beings. Did that involve tears? Possibly. So, is there any record literally using the words “tears” when describing Richard mourning over his departed beloved? No? Do contemporary records make it a far fetched fantasy to speculate on Richard’s tears in such occasions? Again no. Does that fit with the monster image of Tudor’s historians? Hardly. Is this why debunking the tears myth is so important?

If some in turn at this point want to speculate that Richard was a wimp crying at the first difficulty instead of a human being with basic human feelings and corresponding body language and was a good riddance when he was killed at Bosworth field, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I just know for some he can’t seem to win one way or the other

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.

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