So the council car park in Leicester has yielded up its secret. The body discovered by archaeologists in September 2012 is that of King Richard III. The analysis by today’s live conference at the University of Leicester was remarkable – there can be absolutely no doubt that they have got their man. Science, genealogy and history all brought together with DNA analysis, wound analysis, genealogical and historical analysis to prove this.
The discovery is one of the most exciting historical events to happen in living memory. Not because the discovery adds more to our historical understanding of Richard III: it doesn’t. Or because it informs us of something that we didn’t already know: it doesn’t. The discovery of his body merely confirms what we already knew: that Richard died a brutal death on the battlefield of Bosworth, and in death was not treated with dignity.
But more staggeringly, his re-interment in Leicester Cathedral will be a never to be repeated link from our modern-day present to our past: the burial of a king of England. King Richard III – the last of the Plantagenets, the last truly medieval king, the last king of England to die in battle. Or the child-murderer hunchbacked bogeyman of Shakespeare and English history?
With all that will be written and said about Richard III in the coming days and weeks, let us return to contemporary documents written during Richard’s life – along with snippets written afterwards by his nemeses, the Tudors.
King Richard III
The Genealogy of Richard III
The image at the start of this post is a small portion of The Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI, a remarkable document now in the care of the British Library. The chronicle is thought to have been written and illustrated circa 1511 (i.e. shortly after Henry VIII succeeded his father to the throne of England) with additions added by another hand after Edward VI’s death in 1553. The book stayed in the possession of the kings and queens of England until it was given to the British Museum by King George IV in 1823. Below is the full image of the kings – a stupendous display of Tudor propaganda proving that they were the rightful monarchs of England.
The genealogy of the kings of England, including Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII from Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI (England, S. E. (London or Westminster), c. 1511 with additions before 1553) shelfmark King’s 395 ff.32v-33
Lady Margaret Beaufort’s Book of Hours
Margaret Beaufort (born 1443, died 1509) was the mother of Henry VII. Below is an image of the entry for August from her Book of Hours. This Book was made between 1430 and 1443 and owned firstly by Margaret’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp (born 1405/6, died 1482), and then by Margaret. Margaret appeared to use her Book of Hours as a calendar to record significant events in the lives of her son and grandchildren. Thus, she used August to record her son’s landing at Milford Haven and the death of Richard III (we do not know if this is her hand or if a scribe wrote the entries for her).
The first left margin note in black reads
The day landed king harry the vijth at milford have[n] the yere of o[u]r lord vijth cccc lxxxv 
The second left margin note reads
The day king harri the vijth won[n] the feeld [field] wher was slayn ki[n]g Richard the third Ao Do[m] 1485
Has the revival of interest in Richard III already started? At a Christie’s auction of Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts held on 13 June 2012, a rare manuscript with Richard’s signature fetched £109,250 against an estimate of £10,000 to £15,000. Two manuscripts signed by his usurper Henry VII, fetched £7,500 and £8,750; whilst one signed by Henry VIII only managed £20,000.
Henry VII may have won the battle and the crown but Richard III will be the king that will experience a renaissance with the next generation of modern-day historians.
Tuck’s postcard Richard III from Kings and Queens circa 1902
Richard Plantagenet – Duke of Gloucester, Knight of the Garter, Lord High Constable of England, Lord High Admiral, Governor of the North of England, Chief Justice of North Wales, Chief Steward and Chamberlain of Wales, Commander in Chief, Lord Warden of the West Marches, Lord Protector of England,. King of England, France and Lord of Ireland
What do you think about the search and discovery of Richard III? Please do leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.
Images from the British Library’s collection of Medieval Manuscripts are marked as being Public Domain Images and therefore free of all copyright restrictions in accordance with the British Library’s Reuse Guidance Notes for the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.
You may also be interested in the following posts
- Richard III – ‘I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not’
- School Trip Friday – Of cabbages and kings
- Shakespeare’s version of King Richard III
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