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Richard III’s portrait is on the move….

From 8 June – 22 September 2019, Richard’s NPG portrait is on its travels to
the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, Leicester.

If you wander around the NPG site, you’ll find more about their portraits of Richard. Twenty-six in all. But you’ll also find the following:

“Richard III was the last Yorkist king of England. He was a staunch supporter of his elder brother Edward IV against the Lancastrians. However, after Edward’s death he steadily assumed power during the minority of Edward V, and was crowned king in his place.”

Steadily assumed power during the minority of Edward V? Surely this suggests a considerable period of time, with attendant scheming? Events actually ran away with Richard in a matter of days!

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A fleeting trick of the eye….

Forensics - collage

Occasionally, an image glimpsed quickly on TV appears to be something it is not. This happened to me when I first saw the TV trailer for the series Catching History’s Criminals: the Forensics Story on the Yesterday channel.

Being inured to the old, old propaganda that Richard III was the first criminal in all Creation, predating Satan himself, the black-and-white image I glimpsed—very briefly, and then only in close-up—appeared to be the one that went the rounds when Richard’s skull was used to re-create his true appearance. The one where the skull had his NPG portrait superimposed. So, I watched the programme, fully expecting another biased item that condemned him for the boys in the Tower, etc. etc.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be nothing of the sort. It wasn’t even about Richard! It was about a woman, Isabella Ruxton, who was murdered in the 1930s. The picture shown was, like the one of Richard, her skull superimposed on her photograph. The pose was the same as Richard’s, but the thing that spooked me initially, was the left eye. It seemed so like Richard’s left eye in the NPG portrait that I really was convinced Isabella was Richard.

Forensics - Richard III and Isabella Ruxton

Maybe it does not seem so evident to you but, to me, that fleeting out-of-the-blue glimpse on a TV screen was very convincing.

 

A question of age

Drifting in and out of various history groups on the net, a very strange thing has become apparent. There are some out there who truly believe  Richard III’s death was ‘the end of the Middle Ages’ and that he stood in the way of the wonderful, burgeoning Renaissance like some great big dinosaur with both feet firmly planted in the past.

Of course, by pretty much anyone’s standard, Henry Tudor was a ‘medieval king’ as much as Richard, and the Renaissance wasn’t halting for anyone–it was firmly on its way to England and had been for some years prior to Bosworth. Richard certainly was not stopping it.

But putting that aside, there has also been on occasion rather extraordinary comments to the effect of ‘Francis Lovell was a remainder of the ‘old guard’ too set in his ways to embark on the bright new course laid out by Henry Tudor’. This gives a wrong impression that somehow Henry Tudor was a uniquely inspired youth, while Lovell and Richard were  a pair of ancient  stick-in-the-muds, both figuratively and literally! I even read one blog where Henry at Bosworth is described as the ‘young Henry Tudor’, implying that Richard was much older than him, not a mere four years.

Hello, people! These guys were all young men, Tudor, Francis Lovell and Richard, with only a few years between them. No one was stuck in a rut, none of them were old enough to be.  I am pretty darn sure Lovell wasn’t, to paraphrase the familiar saying, an ‘old dog who can’t learn new tricks.’

I blame Shakespeare whose messing with dates ended up giving us a much older Richard than reality–and hence a bevy of middle-aged and sometimes older actors to play him, with the other figures in his life also being portrayed as much older than their true ages. (Edward and Buckingham are frequently portrayed as rather ancient.)

Added to this, The White Queen and The White Princess gave us, pretty much for the first time, a hunky young Henry with designer stubble (although, in fairness, The White Queen did, for once, also give us a  hunky Richard who was around the correct age.)

As far as age confusion, it happens a lot with Richard, but there was a bit of a turnaround at the Bosworth re-enactment this year, and I don’t mean the alternative battle where Richard won the day. The commentator slipped up, and told the crowd that  Henry was ‘an older man’ at the time of Bosworth. Oops!

hunkyhenry‘Hunky’ young  Henry VII ala the White Queen

SHAKYRRichard, played by old dude, with all the Shakespearean trimmings

HENRY.The real young Henry, drawing from life

 

RIII - Royal CollectionRichard, NPG, copy of lost original

Enigmatic signs and messages in a portrait of Richard III….

Everyone knows about Leslau and his theories concerning the Hans Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More and his family. In Leslau’s opinion, the portrait reveals much about the fates of the “Princes in the Tower”. Another Holbein painting, “The Ambassadors” is also filled with secret messages. Or so it is said. I cannot argue one way or another, because I do not know.

Now it seems there are similar mysteries to be solved in the National Portrait Gallery of Richard III. The hands/rings are crafted to expose cryptic clues and give answers concerning his supposed involvement in the deaths of the same two boys mentioned in regard to the More portrait above.

If you follow this link:-

http://www.holbeinartworks.org/efaqssevenkrichardiiitwentyone.htm you will come to a long article (some 70 pages in all) about Richard III. It details Richard’s activities from early on, for instance, when still Duke of Gloucester, he would not accept a French bribe. It dissects the likes of Commynes and Mancini, revealing how the use of invisible ink (probably lemon juice) added information for certain  eyes only, almost like a 15th-century le Carré. And at the centre of it all is Richard, plotted against and lied about, his fault being to “underestimate his enemies and overestimate his friends”. His fate being to be innocent, yet proven guilty by his self-interested foes, especially the French and Henry VII, often working in unison.

So here we go into the pages of ENIGMAS: THE PRINCES AND THE KING: RICHARD III, which commences:-

“#1. “Apart from the Holbein evidence, does “new” documentary evidence exonerate Richard III from the charge of having murdered his two nephews?” 

“Apart from the Holbein allegations, you ask if “new” documentary evidence exonerates Richard III from the charge of having murdered Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. The short answer is ‘No’. However, if DNA findings are positive it means that new evidence can be added to old evidence that will exonerate Richard III for all time. In the event, we will request further instructions from the inquiry. For the present, we continue to test ALL evidence by NIET criteria. The aim and objective is to plan on paper and build on rock.

“To this end, I offer for the first time some seventy or more pages of abstracts from the files of new NIET positive and negative evidence entitled The Princes and the King : Richard III. The pages are divided in ‘Parts’, 1 through 8.”

Given the length and depth of all this, I trust you will forgive me for not attempting to go into great detail.

This link gives more details concerning the NPG portrait, and in particular the configuration of Richard’s fingers and rings.

I will not spoil it all by revealing too much here, but suggest that if you don’t know about all this already, then an hour or so spent delving through the articles will be rather rewarding. Even if you end up pooh-poohing the whole thing.

Whether one believes such theories or not, unravelling them is fascinating, and always—always—there are some points that have enough ring of truth about them to get us wondering if there’s something in it after all.  Please excuse the awful pun.

STILL LOOKING FOR RICHARD 

Introduction

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the noun Ricardianism means ‘support for or advocacy of Richard III’. Even though I have been a supporter of king Richard III for almost six decades, I am reluctant to describe myself as a Ricardian since it implies a narrow interest in one man. I prefer to call myself a Revisionist, which implies a wider interest. This is a personal eccentricity, which I have to bear. I mean no criticism or offence to Ricardians and I sincerely hope none is taken by my frankness. However, the distinction is important to me because it has informed my personal search for the real king Richard.  I have been looking for him since I was a pre-pubescent schoolboy in East London in the fifties. During that time I have met many different ‘Richards’; the purpose of this piece is to share a few of them with you.

 

Olivier’s Richard: the bravura baddie

Although William Shakespeare bears some responsibility for my interest in the last Plantagenet king, it was Laurence Olivier who fired my imagination with his electrifying performance of the king. The first thing to strike me about Olivier’s performance was his voice. It is, as he himself described, it “ …the thin reed of a sanctimonious scholar…it set the vision going thin and rapier like but all-powerful…the perfect hypocrite…. A mixture of honey and razor blades ”[1] Olivier’s Richard is a baddie, but he was an irresistibly captivating baddie. He is witty, he is heroic, and he is sexually potent. The passage wherein he woos Anne, the mourning widow of the man he has just murdered is one of the most lascivious scenes in cinematic history. Olivier’s brilliant and irresistible theatricality is only the posturing of power. He knows how wicked his deeds are but he does them anyway. His opening soliloquy sets the scene:

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…

And

“Since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well spoken days

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of the day

Plots have I laid…”

And he doesn’t disappoint: from the moment he walks on the set, he frames each event for us. He announces it in advance, providing a running commentary and evaluating its success. He seduces a grieving widow as she accompanies her dead husband’s coffin. He murders anyone who gets in his way: his brother, his wife, his nephews, his friend and comrade in arms. He lies, tricks, boasts, leers, jeers and laughs his way to the throne, delighting in his own malignity and making the camera a mirror for his vanity. And then he falls: spectacularly. Richmond invades from France and takes the initiative. His ‘supporters’ desert him and the hunchback metaphor rises to the surface; he is racked with the ghosts of those he has murdered. Typically, his courage is unimpaired. At Bosworth on his last day on earth he tells us “Richard is himself again”. Fighting with supernatural courage and ferocity to retain his life and crown; finally his enemies overwhelm him. In the end only his voice sours: “ a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse... Ultimately, Richard’s death is as much a performance as his life. Great stuff! I still watch that film today and I still have an almost irresistible urge to punch Stanley Baker’s lights out.

 

Inspector Grant’s Richard: on the bench and not in the dock

To be honest I have only read three Ricardian novels and I only enjoyed two of them. Pride of place must go to Josephine Tey. Her novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ set a very high standard for novelists to aspire too during the sixty plus years since Inspector Alan Grant made his first appearance in Ricardian literature. As an experienced Scotland Yard detective Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a criminal on sight. However, when, on being shown the NPG portrait of Richard III, he places him on the bench rather than in the dock, Grant begins to fret. From his hospitable bed and with the help of a young American researcher called Brett Carradine he begins an investigation into the allegations against king Richard, which Grant thinks changes history. Grant sees Richard as a man much traduced and he blames the historians for this. His Richard is a virtuous man, honest and loyal to a fault, brave and an able administrator. He is just, with a genuine care for the common weal. As a former soldier himself, Grant is hugely impressed with Richard’s military career (‘he was a brigadier at eighteen’). It took me a few years to find out that Inspector Grant’s version of Richard was based on the work of Sir Clement Markham. Published at the turn of the twentieth century. Markham’s account is an elegant but flawed defence of Richard, which modern scholars tend to regard like the ‘curates egg’: it is good in parts.

 

The Tudor Richard: the facts do not always speak for themselves

It is the Tudor based history of Richard started by Sir Thomas More and completed by William Shakespeare, which still dominates the public’s perception of him as a regicide, homicide, usurper and tyrant. This is the Tudor view of Richard that took hold immediately after Bosworth. Mindful of his weak claim to the throne, Henry VII ‘encouraged’ his subjects to believe that his victory and accession was the preordained ending of Richard’s tyrannical reign and, further, that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was the heaven-sent ending of thirty years of internecine civil wars. It is this doctrine that Professor EMW Tillyard calls the ‘Tudor Myth’[2] It is intended to promote the Tudor worldview not just by blackening Richard’s name but by directing what people should think about the Tudors, their claim to the throne and English history. It was a political necessity to blacken Richard’s name to enable the purity of the Tudor dynasty to shine ever brighter.

Professor Paul Murray Kendall describes the growth of this process: “In the court of king Henry VII…there existed among the men who conspired against king Richard III and bought his overthrow a body of opinion, continually enlarged by tales and conjectures concerning the past, which they had conquered. It was out of this amorphous mass of fact, reminiscence, hearsay growing ever more colourful and detailed with the passing years, that the authors of Henry VIII’s day fashioned the (Tudor) tradition.” The problem with the Tudor tradition is not simply that it represents the history of the victors, but also that it is confused and conflicting, and it is based on nothing more than rumour and gossip. It is also clear that Henry VII tampered with the historical record. He ordered Titulus Regius, Richard’s Act of Settlement, to be destroyed without being read, on pain of punishment. He also allowed his official Tudor historian to publish a false account of Richards’s title and his accession[3]. This whole episode highlights the pivotal role played by historians in shaping our perception of history.

 

Self evidently, historical facts are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong. It was the historian EH Clark who wrote: “I am reminded of Houseman’s remark that ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. To praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using properly seasoned wood and properly mixed concrete in his buildings.”[4] Nonetheless, facts do not necessarily speak for themselves. Peoples’ opinions are influenced by the selection and arrangement of appropriate facts. And it is the historians who decide what facts are important, and their context. Necessarily, this is a subjective exercise; it is a mistake to think that facts exist independently of a historian’s interpretation. What constitutes an important ‘historical fact’ as opposed to an ordinary unhistorical fact depends on the historian’s viewpoint. For instance, our picture of England during Richard’s reign is incomplete. This is not just due to gaps in the sources or records but also to the fact that those we do have are largely written by a small number of people in southeastern England. We know quite a bit about the discontent of the Yorkist gentry in London and the south, but we know little or nothing about how his reign was viewed outside that area.   Our view of Richard’s reign has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. Not only are the facts we do have subjective; we almost certainly do not have all the facts.

 

The modern Richard: a study in polemics

These problems raise important ethical and professional questions about impartiality and objectivity. Can historians remain objective? Should they be objective? Professor John Gillingham explores these questions in an essay about Richard’s character.[5] He identifies the dichotomy between Richard’s behavior before 1483 and the nature of his alleged crimes thereafter as the central problem in explaining his character, which he argue raises ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’. It creates a hostile, adversarial environment in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign. He argues that the whole process has developed the features of a courtroom trial (indeed it has). This is awkward because (in the words of historian David Knowles) “…an historian is not a judge, much less a hanging judge” Professor Gillingham adds that it is this reluctance to judge historical characters, allied (in this case) to a realization that “… the evidence base is non-existent” that has led to an accommodation between the traditionalist historians and Ricardians.

He may well be right, but I see little or no evidence of any such ‘accommodation’. Indeed, traditionalist and Ricardian literature and their respective websites are replete with strident and in some cases intolerant views on Richard’s guilt or innocence. Unfortunately for the disinterested observer, too much of this writing is polemical: some for him but most against him.   Professor Charles Ross put his finger on the key issue for modern historians: “ The extraordinary problems of the evidence are highlighted by the difficulty historians have always found in providing an answer to the vital question: when and why did Richard seek the throne for himself?” [6] Clearly, anybody wishing to write a balanced piece about Richard has to struggle with the paradox of his behaviour before April 1483 and the crimes he is accused of thereafter. Professor Ross assures us that the modern approach is to ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” Ross further argues that modern historians have a much better understanding of the Tudor tradition and a wider knowledge of fifteenth century English politics, adding for good measure that this has resulted in “…a more critical appreciation of the value of the Tudor tradition and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence…”[7] Even for a neutral observer, these comments raise two obvious issues. First, one wonders how closely the events of these times can be scrutinized given the ‘extraordinary problems’ of the evidence alluded to. Second, the suggestion that the Tudor tradition is confirmed by contemporary sources simply begs the question, since the probity of the contemporary material is precisely the issue disputed by Ricardians. The Tudor writers may simply be repeating the mistakes of fifteenth century sources.

 

The return of the king

The rescue of Richard’s bones from a municipal car park and their reinternment in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester is a historic moment, which I welcome. It enables people to focus on his humanity, which is a much-needed balance to the Tudor inspired caricature we are familiar with. We know what he looked like, what he ate, what he drank, that he had scoliosis, and exactly how he died — in graphic detail. Nevertheless, his reinternment with honour has done nothing to close the rift between Ricardians and traditionalists. More worryingly from my perspective, is the impression I get that the drama surrounding his discovery and reinternment, and the keen debate it has provoked, may be transforming the last Plantagenet king into a cult figure.   Moreover, the discovery of his bones, invaluable though this is, does not actually advance our knowledge and understanding of the defining events of his life: the bastardization and deposition of his nephew Edward V, and the disappearance of the two Princes in the Tower. A dearth of reliable contemporary sources, the growth of an enduring legend, epitomized by Shakespeare, and the passage of time have conspired to prevent us from being able to establish what truly happened during the critical period of Richard’s life. I accept that on the material we have now we cannot know the truth. We can interpret the material according to our personal agenda, we can analyse peoples’ movements and actions and we can infer their intentions and motives. But, as things, stand we can never know what the actual truth is.

For me, therefore, the search continues….

[1] Laurence Olivier – On Acting (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1986). I suspect Olivier was really a Ricardian. This is what the thought of Shakespeare’s history “I didn’t read any of the books that were around, protecting Richard from the false rumour written by this tinkerer with melodrama, whose name is William Shakespeare, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else. I just stayed with the man.” (p79)

[2]. EMW Tillyard Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1944); pp. 29-32

[3]. It was (and is) unheard of for a Parliamentary bill to be repealed without being read. It is indicative of Henry VII‘s desire to suppress the truth.

[4]. EH Clark- What is History? (Palgrave Macmillan 2001 edition) at page 5

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) pp 11

[6]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 64.

[7]. Ross at page LXVI

The Art of Frances Quinn

janetS6306091frances and janetFor over five hundred years, Richard the Third has been the subject of much good and bad art.  Perhaps the most famous image is the National Portrait Gallery portrait which hangs in a prominent spot (after years of being shunted into a busy stairwell at the entryway) and has for many years intrigued casual visitors as well as historians, novelists and artists.  The sensitive portrait is so at odds with the “evil uncle” myth that it is no wonder that it has spawned everything from detective novels to an entire society devoted to finding out the true story of the last English king to die in battle.  With the discovery of his remains and the amazing reconstruction of his head and face, many talented artists (including the Finnish graphic artist, Riikka Nikko) have taken to drawing and painting his handsome face.

One of the most prolific Ricardian artists on the scene today is Frances Quinn, a Dublin-based artist whose works can be seen as the cover art of novels (particularly the work of Janet Reedman) and has won a place in British historian John Ashdown-Hill’s new book “The Mythology of Richard the Third.”  I had the chance to interview Frances and find out a little bit more about the woman behind the lovely portraits of King Richard as well as her beautiful images of horses, dogs, boars and stags – particularly her rendition of Richard’s possibly mythical stallion, White Surrey.

Frances, can you give us some background on your art education and something about your life in Ireland?

I’ve had no art training at all; I’m entirely self-taught.  Having said that, the artistic streak runs in my mother’s side of the family.  I have a cousin and an uncle who are artists as well.  I live on the outskirts of Dublin in what used to be a country village until the developers got hold of it.  I left school at seventeen and as I couldn’t afford to go to art college, I went to work in the bookmaking business.  I now work part-time, in order to spend more time at my art.

How would you describe your work?

My style of art is semi-realistic; I suppose it’s more of an illustrative style than strictly ‘art.’  I use mostly gouache and watercolours but I also use coloured pencil and occasionally water based oils – but they take too long to dry to my liking!

frances quinn

How did you get involved in illustrating books?

I used to do illustrations for fanzines in the 80s and 90s, so it was a natural progression to move to books.  I’ve done several covers and John Ashdown-Hill has used one of my paintings in his latest book on the mythology of Richard the Third.  John was here in Ireland last year to give a talk and the Irish Richard the Third group presented him with one of my paintings.  He must have liked it as he asked if he could use the painting of Richard and White Surrey.

I can see why he liked it.  Can you tell us why and when you became interested in Richard the Third?  Is there another historical figure that interests you as much as he does?

I’ve always been interested in Richard the Third.  Something about him fascinated me and after I read “The Daughter of Time” in the early 80s, I tried to find out as much as I could about him.  About the only decent book available then was Paul M. Kendall’s biography “Richard the Third.”  The only other historical figure that I was interested in was Tutankhammun!  I think artists as drawn to subjects that have a touch of the mythic about them; Richard has so much of the “sacrificial” mythos characteristics, he’s a perfect study for any  artist or writer.

Do you have a studio?

I don’t have a specific studio but my front room doubles as my ‘aetelier’ – which sounds very grand.  Actually, it’s just a room of art supplies, books and bits of taxidermy.

How can we buy your work?

If anyone’s interested in buying my art, they can contact me either on my Facebook page “The Art of Frances Quinn” or email me at echdhu@yahoo.ie.

Thanks, Frances.  I’ll let you get back to work.

frances richard and white surrey

J.P. Reedman’s novels and short stories can be found on Amazon.com.

Top right:  left to right, Frances Quinn and Janet Reedman

First he scowls, then he smiles….

Richard's Portrait - before and after twiddling

Oh, the wonder of computers. They can impart such power, even to making Richard III show his true colours at last, by smiling from his hitherto moody portrait.

The portrait of him held by the Society of Antiquaries is believed to be the earliest of the few portraits that still survive of Richard. All of them were painted after his death, presumably from lost originals. So, we see Richard as the young man he was, lean, dark-haired…with disapproving eyes, pinched lips and a generally mean appearance. Really? Is this portrait a ‘Tudorised’ dig at the dead king? I think so. I do not believe this was how Richard looked. Yes, he was young, lean and dark-haired, but not with that horrible expression. Please.

To the rescue comes Paint Shop Pro X6, and with a few tweaks, Richard is more light-hearted. His eyes are shining and warmer, his lips curved, and the whole thing has changed. Isn’t it amazing what a smile can do?

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