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That Dead Richard III Fellow in a Parking Lot

08 Feb

Or Car Park, whatever that is exactly.

I wasn’t going to post on Richard III. What do I know about him other than that the date of his death has sometimes been used, erroneously, as the dividing line between the Medieval and Early-Modern periods? 1 He’s 800-1200 years later than my period and other than knowing Laura Blanchard, former head of the US branch of the Richard III Society(shameless name-dropping here), from usenet I have next to nothing to offer. But there’s just too much entertainment going on with this and I want to get in on the fun.

The kicker was when I started asking myself, “What does this discovery tell us, historically?” I mean, yeah, his bones have been found so you can confirm he’s dead but since he was born 560 years ago I think we knew that already, without physical proof.

TPB_Mostly_Dead
Richard III is ALL dead, unlike the middle guy in this picture

OK, his skeleton shows a spinal curvature but not so much as to call him a hunchback but from what I’ve read on him (admittedly not much) historians had pretty much figured out that he wasn’t the withered cripple portrayed by Shakespeare. It would have been tough for a guy who was that messed up to have ridden into battle and almost gotten within striking distance of Henry Tudor.

RIII_Steve_Weingartner

 Richard III, portrayed on stage by Steven Weingartner. As he died in his early 30’s, based on this picture he must have led a hard life.

His height was about 5’8″ which doesn’t make him a giant but does put him above average for the period. I think the analysis of his bones to determine his diet is interesting but mostly confirms what everyone already knows; that kings ate better (if by better we mean a diet higher in total calories and saturated fats) than the bulk of the population.

His remains showed that he died violently. Not quite the dream of dying in bed surrounded by grandchildren but far better than Edward II’s (reputed) sorry end. His corpse was somewhat abused after his death and unceremoniously buried. Again, this could have been worse; at least pieces of his body weren’t sent to various places to be hung on posts which has been known to happen to deposed monarchs. It confirms that his body wasn’t thrown in a river but from my limited reading, all this seems to have been deduced by historians already.

It doesn’t shed any light on what happened to the princes in the tower, or explain why, if he didn’t kill them, he didn’t parade them around to demonstrate his innocence when rumors of their deaths started to circulate. It doesn’t tell what kind of man he was, how he was viewed publicly, or much of anything that people didn’t already know. But it has provided a great deal of humor, as the links at the bottom of this post by Historian on the Edge indicate. Katy Meyers at Bones Don’t Lie has one of the funny car park images in a recent post. I’ve seen others and won’t post them here though I think my favorite is the one of the reenactors at the site with a dialogue script, “I think we left him around here somewhere.”

And I can’t believe nobody’s done this yet (maybe they have but I haven’t run across it) so I’ll present my own offering:
For want of a nail …
I had to find a new place to park my car which made me late for work so you see why this really shouldn’t go on my performance evaluation, right?

The most significant aspect of the find, to me, is that it creates interest in the period, in history, in how the Tudors demonized Richard III to legitimize their claim, and in how Shakespeare picked up on this a century later and thought it would make a cool play. This find may result in a new movie about him. We’ll have to see if it’s historical, historically based, or ends up being something which, other than using his name, is so distanced from reality as to only be incidentally related to history. Whatever it does, it’ll need to fill seats.

There are all kinds of uses of this including showing what archaeology can and can’t do, providing a further example of how care needs to be used in interpreting sources (what’s nice in this case is that the examples are so obvious which provides a good teaching point for beginners – and then you can compare this with more subtle examples). But from a historical perspective re adding to what was already known, I’m not seeing a lot. Still, it’s interesting and people are having a bit of fun with it.

1 OK, maybe 1485 makes as much sense as any other date. I’ve commonly gone with 1517 and Martin Luther nailing some complaints against The Church on the door of a church in Wittenberg (or not doing so since said nailing is in question). Any of these arbitrary dates are mostly useful as discussion points. I’ve just tended to date my Medieval period as from 312 to 1517 as an era of a single Christian religious institution which was, IMO, the most influential social movement of the era. Of course Christianity really didn’t become the official religion until 380 and it was another decade or so before Luther’s movement resulted in another church – I’ve gone with the symbolic rather than the actual here. And now I’m arguing with myself. In a footnote.

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2 responses to “That Dead Richard III Fellow in a Parking Lot

  1. Lucas

    February 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

    Hi Curt,

    Just wanted to let you know that for some reason the notification I received when you posted this was detected as “phishing” by my email client. I thought it was a bit bizarre for it to think that, but I’m just letting you know that it did in case this becomes a future issue.

    On an unrelated note, I’m giving a paper at Oxford in two weeks. Would you be willing to look over it and let me know what you think?

    Lucas

     
  2. Curt Emanuel

    February 12, 2013 at 6:47 am

    Hey Lucas. Not sure about the phishing thing – I’m sure WP throws a cookie in there but I don’t know why it would show up that way. As for the paper, I’d be happy to. Just e-mail it to me. Not sure how much I’ll be able to offer but I’ll take a look. As for Oxford, I think I’m impressed. Or is this part of your graduate application process? I thought you’d finished that but I lose track.

    Curt

     

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