The King in the Car Park
If you’re interested in medieval English history or the Wars of the Roses, I’m sure you’ve followed the recent news stories on the finding of King Richard III’s skeleton. Richard III is one of England’s most controversial monarchs, immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Richard III as an evil, deformed monster. Richard III reigned for only two years (1483-1485); his short reign was marred by rumor, deception and scandal.
Who was King Richard III?
For those not familiar with the story, here it is in a nutshell.Richard’s older brother, Edward, reigned as King Edward IV from 1461-1470 and 1471-1483. At Edward’s untimely death in 1483, his 12-year-old son succeeded him as King Edward V. Richard was named as Lord Protector until the young Edward came of age. But within a few months, Richard seized the throne and was crowned as King Richard III. Why? What circumstances led to his coronation? Most importantly, did Richard kill or order the killings of his two nephews, Edward V and his younger brother Richard? These questions have puzzled historians for centuries. Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485, the last English king to die in battle. He was defeated by the forces of Henry Tudor, later crowned as Henry VII, thus ushering in the Tudor era. Richard’s body was brought to the town of Leicester and given over to the Franciscan friars after the battle. After that, history was unclear as to exactly what happened to his body.
In 2012, in a collaborative effort by the University of Leicester, the Richard III Society and the Leicester City Council, Richard III’s skeleton was found buried under a Leicester car park, on the site of the old Grey Friars priory. This find does not answer the questions about Richard III’s reign or the ultimate fate of the “Princes in the Tower,” but scientific analysis of the bones gives us a fascinating glimpse into his lifestyle and diet, his spinal deformity, and exactly what wounds he suffered at the Battle of Bosworth. For more information on the archaeology dig, the University of Leicester hosts an informative website.
Learn More at Your Library
If you want to find out more about Richard III and late Medieval England in general, the Fauquier County Public Library has several sources you can explore. For a good overview of the time period, check out Dan Jones’s The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors, published in 2014. Philippa Gregory’s The Women of the Cousins’ War, Desmond Seward’s The Wars of the Roses Through the Lives of Five Men and Women of the Fifteenth Century, and Alison Weir’s Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World are good biographical studies of people involved in the Wars of the Roses. For information on the controversy on the two young princes, see The Princes in the Tower by Elizabeth Jenkins. A recent PBS Secrets of the Dead episode, Resurrecting Richard III, focused on Richard’s skeleton and how he could have ridden horseback and been an effective fighter with such a severe spinal deformity.
For those of you who prefer fiction, there are many fictional works set during this time period. One of my favorites is The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman, focusing on the love story of Richard III and his wife Anne Neville. Philippa Gregory’s Cousins’ War series focuses on the women involved–Anne Neville, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York, and others. P.C. Doherty’s The Fate of Princes explores a possible fate for the two young princes. Kate Sedley’s Roger the Chapman mystery series takes place during the late 1400s, and in the book The Tintern Treasure, Roger is caught up in a rebellion against King Richard III. And in a book I’ve mentioned before, Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, while recuperating from a broken leg, researches the story of Richard III and the princes.
Intrigued? To learn more, stop by and browse the book display on this topic at the Warrenton central library, or ask at the Reference Desk.
Vicky, Adult Reference Librarian, Warrenton central library