Book Review: The King’s Grave

The King’s Grave:  The Discovery Of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place And The Clues It Holds, by Philippa Langley & Michael Jones

It is remarkable the extent to which the discovery of the body of Richard III has led to a considerable degree of goodwill towards a greatly maligned English ruler.  Without being a Ricardian–admittedly, I do not know what would be necessary in terms of one’s opinion about Richard III to be viewed as a Ricardian, so I may perhaps be one in the eyes of others–it is easy to see that in the case of Richard III that the way history was written by the winners, namely the parvenu Tudors, that a great injustice has been done.  A king of somewhat gracile form dealing with the pain of scoliosis (no picnic to deal with), in no reasonable reading of history is he the monster that the Tudor mythmakers said he was.  If I am among those who think it quite possible (although by no means certain) that he killed his nephews, he was the legitimate king because those nephews were, according to canon law, illegitimate due to the lack of legitimacy in their mother’s marriage to Richard’s brother.  And being a legitimate king would indicate a certain way that he and his corpse should have been treated, which was not the case.

This particular book, written by two Ricardians who were influential in the successful efforts to locate and honor Richard III, that famous king in the car park, is a bit more than 250 pages long and masterfully moves back and forth between Richard III’s own life and death and the efforts on the part of a team of archaeologists to uncover the Greyfriars church location and the hullabaloo that followed the discovery of Richard III’s unwashed and mutilated corpse.  We begin with an introduction that discusses the inspiration for the dig, and then a look at the road to the dig taking place in Leicester (1), moving on to the debate about Richard’s charge at Henry Tudor at Bosworth (2).  We look at the beginnings of the plan to dig (3) as well as Richard’s early career and his focus on nobility (4).  There is a discussion of the discovery of the church and its nave in the dig (5) as well as the seizure of the throne by Richard III after the death of his brother (6).  The discovery of the skeletal remains (7) precedes a generally friendly account of Richard III as king (8).  The identification of the remains (9) leads to a discussion of the battle of Bosworth itself (10), and finally a discussion of the man behind the myth (11) is followed by a thoughtful look at Richard III and his times (12), before two appendices that deal with the fate of the princes in the tower and a psychological analysis of Richard III.

While the Tudors went to great lengths to preserve their own place on England’s throne during the troubled times of the late 1400’s until the death of Elizabeth I’s in 1603, their historical reputation has not been particularly kind, in large part because we know that they were not very gracious people and engaged in all kinds of spycraft and targeted violence at whoever threatened their hold on power.  In fact, as I have noticed elsewhere, the Tudors are accounted to be so wicked in their dealings that it is nearly impossible to libel them since nearly anything evil said about them will be widely believed.  Given the hunt by Henry VII and Henry VIII against anyone who had a drop of Plantagenet blood, and who would presumably have a better claim to the throne than they did as the descendants on Henry VII’s maternal line of the legitimized but morganatic descendants of John of Gaunt and of a Welsh groom and a royal widow whose marriage was of dubious legitimacy on their paternal side, to say nothing of the dubious legitimacy of being descended from Edward IV’s illegitimate daughter for Henry VIII and his successors.  But they won at Bosworth, and so they were able to humiliate a legitimate king and deny him the glorious sort of burial he deserved as a true Plantagenet sprig, at least until his body was found under a car park and buried in proper state.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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