Déjà vu All Over Again: Fighting About Richard III

NPG 148; King Richard III by Unknown artist

Some stories never die. For years, those who think Richard III ordered the murder of his nephews (aka the Princes in the Tower) and those who believe he was the victim of a Tudor smear campaign* have continued a low-grade specialist pissing match. With the discovery and authentication of Richard’s bones, the battle has moved from the journals and conventions aimed  at specialists and enthusiasts to mainstream venues.

Ricardians and their foes** are all over the media, traditional and web alike, drawing conclusions from the evidence of the dead king’s bones with varying degrees of enthusiasm and civility.  Two points in particularly seem to be in contention.

  • Richard’s remains clearly show that he had a badly curved spine as a result of scoliosis. So far I’ve seen arguments that this proves that he 1) did not have a hump or 2) definitely had a hump.

Image courtesy of the Richard III Society

  • This reconstruction of his head, made using forensic technology, is remarkably similar to the famous portrait in Britain’s National Portrait Gallery (above)–without the expressiveness of the portrait. Dr. Phil Stone, writing on the Richard III Society website, says “…when I looked him in the eye, ‘Good King Richard’ seemed alive and about to speak”. The website itself describes the reconstructed face as “young, earnest and rather serious”. Dr. Sean Lang, in a snarky post in the History Today blog, takes the opposite position: “…my first thought on seeing the face was that I have never seen such ruthlessness in a human face in my life.” ***

And so forth.

I will admit to a slight pro-Richard bias, thanks to Josephine Tey’s classic novel The Daughter of Time.**** What about you?

* William Shakespeare was not only a great poet and playwright, he was a hell of a spin doctor. Modern politicians can only dream of having such a talented propagandist in their corners.

**I’m never quite sure whether those who believe Richard was a bad guy are actively pro-Tudor or simply anti-Richard. Either way, they are just as passionate about their beliefs as the Ricardians, though I don’t believe they’ve formed a society to espouse their cause. If you know differently, please let me know.

***Personally, I think the reconstruction has the same vacant stare and lack of emotion common to all such reconstructions. The bones by themselves give us the shape of the face, not the shape of the mind or the soul.

**** Read it!  Then read the rest of Tey’s novels.




  1. […] Déjà vu All Over Again: Fighting About Richard III […]

  2. Richard III discovery: news and resources round up on February 10, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    […] Déjà vu All Over Again: Fighting About Richard III […]

  3. Christina on February 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Strange cosmic convergence: The day you posted and recommended J.Tey’s novels, someone donated several of them, including DAUGHTER OF TIME, to a book drive I pick up for. They are now on my waiting-to-be-read shelf at home. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • pamela on February 12, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      I firmly believe that once something is on your mental radar you see it everywhere.

  4. Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm on February 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Yep, pro-Richard thanks to The Daughter of Time! 🙂

  5. Blood Sisters on April 2, 2013 at 10:11 am

    […] the discovery of Richard III’s bones under a Leister parking lot, the Wars of the Roses are in the news again. Historians and hobbyists […]

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