History is a funny thing.
It was announced today, and shortly all over the interwebs, that the skeletal remains of King Richard III had been positively identified “beyond reasonable doubt.”
The remains were found under a car park in Leicester, England, after a search for the “missing” church of Greyfriars, where the king had been hastily buried after his defeat at Bosworth by Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII.
Scientists matched the DNA of the skeleton to two of Richard III’s maternal line relatives. Radiocarbon dating also revealed the individual died in the second half of the 15th or early 16th century, consistent with the king’s death in 1485.
What fascinates me though, is that while the mystery of the missing king is now solved, the mystery of the missing “Princes in the Tower” still remains.
Richard’s brother, Edward IV, inherited the claim to the throne during the Wars of the Roses in the mid-15th century. After defeating Henry VI, a Lancaster, in 1471, his claim was cemented, and the crown of England was destined to be passed down to his young 12-year-old son, Edward V, upon his death in 1483. The mistake he made was making his brother, Richard III, Protector.
Or was it a mistake?
There is little to no certain evidence Richard III was involved in the disappearance of Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, the Duke of York. Before Edward V could be crowned, his parents’ marriage was declared invalid, making him ineligible for the throne. Edward V and his brother were lodge in the Tower at this time, and were never seen again after Richard III was crowned. Many believed Richard III had the princes killed in order to cement his own claim to the throne, but the evidence against him is only circumstantial.
Other suspects in the disappearance of the two princes exist, most benefiting Richard III. But the question remains. Did Richard order the deaths of the princes? Did one of his cronies take them out without his knowledge to make Richard’s claim to the throne more valid? Or did Henry Tudor get rid of them after his defeat of Richard III in order to validate his claim to the throne?
It’s one of the great historical mysteries that fascinates me.
The other thing I find intriguing is the condition of the bones. History remembers him as a grotesque man, a limping hunchback with a withered arm who craved the throne for himself. But this image of Richard is taken from Shakespeare’s Richard III, a Tudor sympathizer. Of course he would paint the enemy of the Tudors in a negative light.
With the bones, scientists found evidence of scoliosis, a curvature of the spin, which would have made him shorter, but no evidence of a hunchback or withered arm. If our beliefs about his appearance are wrong, what else could be wrong? Could he be innocent of the princes’ disappearance? Was he, as some contemporaries and historians claim, actually a decent king?
History is written by the winners, and this may be one of the ultimate cases.
History really is a funny thing.