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Richard III’s Body Found

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This is the earliest surviving portrait of King Richard III of England.

“A good lord” is what historian John Rous called him during his reign. “The wretched, bloody and usurping boar” is what Shakespeare called him years after his death. The medieval King Richard III has been one of the most controversial figures of English history, a controversy which has become worldwide after the discovery of his body was announced on Feb. 4th.

The skeleton was first found in a parking lot in Leicester, England in August last year, but thanks to DNA testing, scientists were able to confirm that it was of the last king of the Planetagenets Dynasty, the fabled Richard III.

Here at McCallum, many students only know him through Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, which is required reading in freshman Pre-AP English. The play centers on Richard III as he plots and schemes his way to the throne, only to be killed shortly after.

“The play is a lot of fun to read simply because of how brutal it is,” said junior Lianna Mills, who remembers it from freshman year. “Richard is such a fascinatingly despicable character that even though you aren’t exactly rooting for him, you really want to see what he’s going to do next, and then get what’s coming to him at the end. He’s unsympathetic but fascinating.”

Shakespeare had written the play under the rule of Queen Elisabeth I of Tutor Dynasty, whose ancestors had overthrown and killed Richard III in the battle of Bosworth Field. Therefore, the sentiment of the time was not favorable towards the late king.

“They say that history is written by the victors,” Mills said, “so it’s not surprising that an account of Richard III written under the Tudors would cast him as a villain. I’ve heard that much of what Shakespeare wrote about Richard III is probably false or greatly exaggerated, since he was writing for the current rulers.”

Others argue however that Richard III was only a product of his time, which was violent and ruthless. Some say that he obtained the throne legally, and that the murders are just rumors spread by the Tutor’s after his death. There is even a group called The Richard III Society, which is dedicated to improving his image.

“It’s hard to imagine Richard from the play as a ‘good lord’!” Mills said. “I wonder if there wasn’t some scheming going on behind the scenes, though—in the play, he kept up a harmless appearance to all but the audience at first, gaining people’s trust to make them easier to kill or manipulate. Maybe that part of the story has some basis in fact.

“[But] if he was really such a great ruler then it’s a shame that this is what he’s most remembered for,” Mills added. “I don’t know if Shakespeare’s portrayal is correct, but is definitely a lot of fun.”

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Richard III’s Body Found