Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bin Laden and Richard III (Together at Last)

Richard III was probably the most hated king in English history. Not as evil as Shakespeare made him out to be, but plenty bad enough. He was particularly hated because people believed that he had murdered his nephews, the princes Edward and Richard, and they were almost certainly right to believe that. Some modern mealy-mouths have tried to acquit Richard III, but tell that to Lord Stanley's yeomen, who hewed this villain down at Bosworth Field. They believed it.

When Richard was killed at Bosworth Field, they stripped off his armor and threw his naked and bloody carcass on the floor of a nearby chapel. There it lay for some days, so that people could travel from miles around to see it and know for certain that the hated Richard was dead. At some point the victorious Henry Tudor had the naked body hung up for public display in Leicester. It would have been a gruesome sight. According to legend Richard's head had been smashed open, fulfilling a prophecy that was told to him before the battle: "Richard Plantagenet, on your return to Leicester your head shall be broken where your spur strikes now."

Henry Tudor had his reasons. Some of Richard's henchmen had escaped the battle, and he wanted to send them a message. And he wanted it well known that Richard was truly dead. The Elvis Phenomenon was as common then as it was now. When King Henry VI died under questionable circumstances (possibly murdered, possibly even murdered by Richard III himself) it was rumored long after that he was still alive - somebody saw him in Scotland, somebody saw him in France. Henry Tudor saw to it that no one could claim Richard III had escaped justice.

At some point, perhaps weeks after his death, Richard's corpse was taken down and handed over to the brothers of Greyfriars Church, not so much for burial as disposal. Richard got no holy rites, nor even common respect. His body may have been disinterred afterwards and thrown into the River Soar. If he has a grave no one knows where it is - the authorities give conflicting information. They couldn't agree on who killed him, either. Nobody could keep the story straight.