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AN ITEM in Science magazine, 8 February 2013, got me thinking about England’s Richard III, the last of its Plantagenet kings and recently unearthed beneath a Leicester parking lot. There are interesting subtexts here, the War of the Roses, Shakespeare’s history play, modern forensics and continued squabbles among royal and religious factions.
Richard was the last English king of the House of York. He was crowned in London’s Westminster Cathedral in 1483, only three years before his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field. His defeat ended the sporadic thirty-year War of the Roses. The white rose represented the York faction; red for the Lancasters.
Henry Tudor was the Lancaster victor at Bosworth Field. Two months after the battle, he was crowned Henry VII. And not long after that, he enhanced a fragile peace by marrying Elizabeth of York, whose two brothers were the Princes of the Tower, allegedly put to death by Richard III—but that’s another story.
In fact, the story is called The Tragedy of King Richard the third. Containing, His treacherous Plots against his brother Clarence: the pittiefull murther of his innocent nephewes…. You get the picture.
For his historical source, Shakespeare used Holinshead’s Chronicles, the latter published in 1577-1587 and decidedly a contemporary Tudor slant on matters. Think writing an Obama play sourced from Rush Limbaugh. But no matter, it’s still Shakespeare and it gave us the line, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
The play also portrayed Richard, accurately it turned out, as “deformed” and “unfinish’d.”
This proved helpful when archaeologists were digging up the Priory Street Centre Car Park in Leicester, England. They were there researching a monastery demolished on the site in the 16th century.
The archaeologists uncovered a skeleton that was evidently male, in his late 20s to late 30s—with a feminine build and deformities in keeping with historical sources (and not, apparently, just Holinshead’s).
DNA extracted from the teeth and a thigh bone matched that of two modern relatives, both descended from Richard’s sister, Anne of York. This was indeed Richard III. See http://goo.gl/lzCh9 for a video from The Guardian.
The Mayor of Leicester has announced plans to rebury Richard III in Leicester Cathedral, probably early next year.
However, if various factions have their way about it, this won’t be a slam-dunk. The government has received petitions from 14 different groups, each with compelling claims on Richard’s final resting place.
Catholics object to Leicester Cathedral, clearly a Protestant setting, as Richard lived—and died—a Catholic, 49 years before Henry VIII nationalized Holy Mother the Church in 1534. York Minster has a claim because Richard was, of course, House of York, albeit the last royal one. Westminster Abbey is an option, as 17 of England’s other kings and queens are already buried there. Even the Priory Street Center Car Park has submitted a claim. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013