Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Wednesday 23rd August 2017 | Manchester, UK

Richard III: Words from the historian and the archaeologist.

As historians we should be excited by the discovered of Richard III’s body, since it seems very likely indeed that it is his; it is not every day that the bones of an anointed English king are discovered.  The significant scoliosis of the spine is also very interesting, since this seems to bear out contemporary references to some deformity; however, it was clearly not enough to stop Richard pursuing a successful political and military career.  Does this mean that we should rethink him and his role in the disappearance and death of his nephews?  No; the evidence remains what it is: strongly circumstantial, but not conclusive.  The princes seem to have dropped out of public sight by the end of the summer of 1483 and, although they were ‘officially’ illegitimate, their continued existence was a permanent threat to Richard’s kingship.  The fact that their mother, the Dowager Queen Elizabeth (Woodville) was negotiating with Henry Tudor in the autumn of 1483 suggests that she believed them to be dead.  None of this is changed by the discovery of Richard’s body.  As to where to bury it, that’s a different matter!

Charles Insley, Senior Lecturer of Medieval History

 

I think it is a pretty important not to say spectacular discovery of that rare kind when it is possible to link the remains to a known historical individual. To find the last Plantagenet king who died at the battle of Bosworth, whose death initiated the new dynasty of the Tudors, is deeply fascinating. It has allowed archaeologists and anatomists to study in great detail the wounds that Richard suffered in what is otherwise a relatively poorly documented battle at the end of the Wars of the Roses. It also sheds interesting light on Tudor claims that he was a hunchback and the way Richard is portrayed in Shakespeare. In fact the study of the bones shows that Richard had scoliosis or curvature of the spine but this may not have been obvious when Richard was clothed. Whatever contemporaries said about Richard, one thing is clear even from the historical record: – he died fighting bravely on the battlefield. The ability to confirm the identification using dating methods and DNA comparison inspires confidence that archaeology can identify other individuals in due course. The chance to compare his facial reconstruction with the few portraits that survive is another aspect to this discovery as only rarely is there an image of the dead person associated with the remains with which one can check the accuracy of a facial reconstruction. I know some commentators have said we’d be better off with the remains of a late medieval peasant but such a person is hardly likely to have had his or her portrait painted. The comparison is only possible because high status individuals were deemed important enough to portray in art.

Bryan Sitch, Curator of Archaeology, Manchester Museum

 

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