FAIR (Or is it FOUL? We’re not really sure.): We suppose there is a moral in the life of Richard III: One day, you’re king of England. Next day a guy is driving a halberd through your head and then you get some really bad press and come to be regarded as one of history’s worst villains. Before you know it, you’ve been dead for 500 years and they find your bones buried under a city hall parking lot. Sic transit gloria mundi, as they say. So passes the glory of the world.
On Monday British archaeologists confirmed that skeletal remains uncovered beneath a council parking lot in the city of Leicester were those of the last Plantagenet king, the man immortalized by William Shakespeare as the Duke of Gloucester. So horrified was Richard by his own appearance, says the Bard, that he figured love was out and villainy was his line of work. Thus he had his nephews whacked so he could become king, only to be dispatched by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond with the cry, “The bloody dog is dead.”
Many of history’s greatest actors have uttered Richard III’s opening soliloquy, the one that begins, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” and his final lament, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, Al Pacino, John Wilkes Booth. Yes, that John Wilkes Booth, who knew a little something about villainy.
The real Richard III may not have been such bad guy; no evidence was ever found to tie him to the deaths of his nephews. Nor was he such a bad king, although he was king only about as long as Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska, so he didn’t have time to build much of a record. His death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 (20 miles from Leicester in the English Midlands) ended the War of the Roses and ushered in the 100-year reign of the Tudor monarchs; Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were no prizes, either.
To look at the photographs of Richard’s skeleton is to appreciate the pain his scoliosis must have caused (to say nothing of the halberd hole in his skull). Shakespeare gave him a bum rap. Writers.
— Kevin Horrigan