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The Mythology of Richard III: Famous or Infamous?

Updated: Feb 22

Let me start by saying that Richard III is one of my most favourite monarchs, he ranks second just after Richard's great-nephew: Henry VIII. And one of the reasons why I find Richard so fascinating is because his life and afterlife are so full of twists and turns. Who would have thought that the younger brother of the charismatic and popular Edward IV would one day eclipse everyone of his generation and be remembered as a wicked uncle who brought about the deaths of his nephews and thus the end of his dynasty? Also, his downfall at Bosworth in 1485 is usually equated with the end of medieval era, and in summation, that's quite a heavy burden to carry into one's afterlife. This book is the second entry of my Ricardian book Recommendation Trilogy #RatedRiii (first one being ‘The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III’). These volumes are absolutely essential where Richard III is concerned. So.. what makes this book remarkable? It was written by the late John Ashdown-Hill, the man heavily involved in the ‘Looking for Richardproject, headed by Philippa Langley and aided by Leicester City Council and later on, by the University of Leicester as well. The project culminated with the remains of Richard being found under a car park in Leicester in 2012, putting the KING in parKING (apologies, I can never resist this pun...I've tried...). In this volume Mr. Ashdown-Hill goes through all the myths associated with this controversial medieval monarch. It’s not just about the ‘Princes in the Tower’ murder mystery; there is a plethora of inexactitudes and inaccuracies that have taken root over the last five hundred years, sprouting lies, myths and even folklore - some started as recently as the twentieth century. Was he born in Fotheringhay Castle? Was Middleham actually his childhood home? Did he have anything to do with the ‘prophecy of G’ that featured so heavily in Shakespeare's play about him? How did Richard become King? Was he actually going to marry Elizabeth of York, his niece? …So many questions about a life of an individual who was only thirty-two at the time of his death, and was not really in the spotlight until the last twenty two months of his life…This book provides the answers and adjusts the hue of said spotlight: murdering tyrant or misunderstood prince? Villainous or virtuous? ...Seriously, if everyone remotely interested in him would read this book (or at least people who read Shakespeare's play about him and take it as gospel), then the next generation would have a more correct view of Richard III, the late Duke of Gloucester, the last Plantagenet King of England.

'Richard III Experience' Museum in York

My favourite chapter was about Richard's religious views and what questions that brought about with his reinterment at Leicester Cathedral in 2015, especially considering the Reformation of the English Church that occurred between his death and his discovery.

Another favourite thing about this book - the author wrestling with the magnitude of Richard’s post-mortem fame, and also consistently placing Richard in the context of his time, which is important to do when you're dealing with persons from the past. It's always good to remember that people from all walks of life (same as we do now) lived their lives forwards, they did not know what would happen and couldn't make decisions with the benefits of hindsight. It's curious to think that the name 'Bosworth' - the field of battle where Richard was slain - would become synonymous with his name and regnal number - Richard III. Until a few days before his death, 'Bosworth' meant nothing to him and he (presumably) was looking forward to his future.

Stained Glass at Leicester's 'Richard III Visitors Centre'

Here are the documentaries mentioned in the book and some more for your edutainment:

Also here's an article about Richard by Philippa Langley for History Extra.

And of course, because history has to be told with a degree of humour - I can't not share the song from 'Horrible Histories' about Richard III and him 'setting the record straight'. Here's the musical number and also one where Richard's ghost challenges Shakespeare directly (If you've got Netflix - you can check there, 'Horrible Histories' - Series 3, Episode 6 & Series 1, Episode 13 respectively).

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