Richard III: Back in the Headlines
If you're looking for an example of the uncertainties of our temporal existence, of the fleeting nature of fame and power, you need look no further than a parking lot in Leicester, England.
It was there, a few months ago, that a skeleton was found in a search for the remains of Richard III, King of England from 1483 to 1485.
Richard III was a controversial figure when he was alive, and the intervening centuries have done little to change his image. He was accused of numerous treacheries during his brief reign, and since he ended up on the wrong side, as well as dead, in his final battle, his Tudor successors saw no need to rehabilitate his reputation.
Surely you remember Shakespeare's Richard III - he of the humped back and withered arm who allegedly murdered the young princes in the tower and cried, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" just before he died in battle at Bosworth Field during the War of the Roses. The author was the same Shakespeare who lived during the Tudor years and was dependent on congenial relations with the royal family to carry on his work.
The dead guy in the parking lot had two holes in his skull, some obvious battle injuries and an arrow in his back, and he suffered from scoliosis - curvature of the spine. He didn't have a withered arm, but his DNA matched that of Richard's great-nephew seven times removed, and carbon dating put the date of his death around 1500.
That is why University of Leicester scientists announced last Monday that the skeleton was Richard's "beyond reasonable doubt."
Of course, the body wasn't originally buried in a parking lot, or, rather, the parking lot came long after the burial. When Richard was unceremoniously dumped into a hole, sans coffin, shroud or marker, it was the site of the courtyard of Grey Friars Church, which was subsequently confiscated by Henry VIII during his tiff with the pope.
Apparently no one much cared about poor Richard for a long, long time. After all, he lost the battle to Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, and Shakespeare figuratively dug his grave deeper, even if he didn't quite pave it.
Richard remained lost, but not forgotten. Somewhere along the way diehards formed a Richard III Society bent on salvaging their hero's extremely tarnished reputation. They maintain he really wasn't such a bad fellow - he just lost.
He did some good things during his two-year reign. He and his wife Anne endowed Kings and Queens Colleges at Cambridge. He established the Court of Requests, where poor people could make claims. He introduced a right to bail and lifted a ban on printing.
Of course, he probably did murder his nephews, but there was a lot of that sort of thing going on at the time.
Now they're going to bury his bones at Leicester Cathedral with some kind of royal ceremony. Better late than never. The current royals are very distantly related, but I wouldn't expect the queen to toss on the first shovelful of dirt.
It seems as if there might be a lesson in all this for us more ordinary mortals. Even the most powerful among us could end up under a parking lot, lost for 500 years; or, if we just behave ourselves, we could lie in a quiet plot somewhere with a nice marker: "Dear old Dad: He didn't do much, but he was a pleasant fellow."
We just shouldn't expect anyone to write a play.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by email at fwolferman@ sbcglobal.net.
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