So was Richard III evil or not?

We’re led to believe now that the Middle Ages ended in a car park in Leicester. OK, the car park wasn’t there in 1485 when the area witnessed the violent Battle of Bosworth. This was where the reigning monarch, Richard III, met the forces of Henry Tudor – a rebel prince of mainly Welsh stock with a tenuous family claim to the throne. In fact, the royal families of Castile and Portugal had better claims to the English throne than Henry Tudor.

DISCOVER: The fight over the body of Richard III

The battle that ensued has to be set in the context of the long War of the Roses between the royal houses of York and Lancaster – represented by a white rose and a red rose respectively. Lancastrians had seized power in 1399 killing Richard II and we then had Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. The latter was overthrown and killed by the Yorkist Edward IV whose brother, Richard III, then succeeded him.

Did Shakespeare damn Richard’s reputation?

If Shakespeare is to be believed, Richard got to the throne by a combination of murder and deceit during this brother’s reign. He also allegedly murdered two boys – the sons of his brother – in the Tower of London. His evil tendencies were enhanced by his physical appearance – a common view in ancient times. Richard was a hunchback with a withered arm and nasty face….so must have been evil! Right? If you want to see this portrayal in its full glory and gory, watch the 1955 movie of the play starring Laurence Olivier – he just exudes malice from every pore.

The Richard III Society and screenwriter Phillippa Langley have argued long and hard that the king has been misrepresented by Tudor propagandists and Shakespeare and that this monarch is thoroughly misunderstood. The discovery of the king’s skeleton and evidence of abuse to the dead man’s body – he was hacked at and his naked corpse displayed round the town – show the Tudors were perfectly capable of being wicked themselves.

There has been a lively debate online between pro and anti Richard factions. The pro-Tudors have retorted that the skeleton has confirmed the king’s deformities, his unsavory face and all round bad guy status. Nonsense, say Richard’s supporters, he shows nobility and the disease he suffered from – scoliosis – showed he had to battle through pain to rule a great kingdom.

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