Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Royal News: The Amazing Discovery of Richard III—Part II, What The Bones Told.

(Continuing my longer than usual post on this remarkable historical event.)

So what have we found out about Richard from the discovery of his bones? To start, we found out that the most visual myth about him was partly true: Richard did have a deformed back after all. The Ricardians have always held that Richard’s hunchback must have been a myth because you cannot slip a body armour over such deformity—and we do know Richard wore armour—and so they were disappointed to find out that there was some truth to the story (Philippa was shocked!). His skeleton showed very marked scoliosis which would have resulted in a chest deformity and probably one shoulder being raised above the other. But it seems clear that this would not have been much visible to anyone who saw him clothed nor would have affected his life severely. In the best tradition of spin, the Tudors’ propaganda machine took one of Richard’s mild physical features and blew it out of proportions to make him look like a monster.

The documentary’s experts made it clear that Richard’s scoliosis would not have prevented him fighting in battle or living a perfectly normal life. What’s more, the experts found no evidence for the other sinister feature claimed by the Tudors, his famous withered arm. What they did find however, which was surprising, was a feminine build to Richard’s body suggesting a less than masculine frame and delicate limbs. It’s surprising that the Tudors did not use this angle to mark Richard as a hunchback and a sissy. Perhaps they decided not to emphasize these unmanly physical attributes so as not to draw attention to Richard’s vanquisher, Henry VII: a quick look at his portraits shows a man who also lacked a manly frame.

Richard laid bare, forensic-style. Note the spinal curvature that gave rise to the legend of the hunchback. The bones of his feet are not shown because they were not found: it is thought they were destroyed during some building work in the Victorian era.

We also found out that Richard’s physical attributes did not diminish his courage and valour. Forensic examination of his skeleton confirmed some of the contemporary accounts that said Richard died manfully in the thick of battle, assaulted on all sides but fighting to the end. In fact, his last moments seemed to have been truly horrific. His skull showed several major injuries suggesting that while he was fighting at Bosworth protected by armour he lost his helmet, probably knocked off by an opponent, and at that moment everyone must have aimed at his head. His skull showed, among others, a sharp slice on the side probably caused by a sword or halberd, a dagger wound on the top of his head, and finally a huge gash on the back of the head that cracked his skull and would have spilled his brains. Experts said that this final injury was so severe not even current medicine could reverse it: this was the fatal blow that ended his life.

The deathblow. Experts from the Royal Armouries in Leeds think this was probably the kind of weapon that killed Richard by cracking his skull.

The final torments of Richard’s body however did not end with death. Though the face was left intact, to prove to the world that he was really dead, his body suffered further ignominy. One injury to his pelvis, definitely caused after his death, suggested that as his naked body was carried back to Leicester astride a horse he was stabbed in the buttocks with a dagger or sword, a shameful act calculated to inflict only humiliation. He was then buried hastily in a shallow grave in the church of the Greyfriars, naked and with his hands tied, consigned to oblivion until our times. As I watched this part of the documentary with a mixture of surprise and pity, one thought arose in my head: if he really was responsible for the murder of the princes in the tower, we must not think anymore that his crime went unpunished. The end of Richard’s life proves that justice was done upon him in the end.

The documentary scene where the team discusses how Richard died in battle was genuinely moving and shocking, but there was one final revelation to lighten the mood. A team of facial reconstruction experts rebuilt Richard’s face based on his skull, and it showed a remarkably boyish lad, looking much more human than the Tudor portraits that have passed down to us. He did seem to have slightly narrow eyes and pointed chin—like his portraits do—but once again the Tudors stretched his features to make him look more devilish than he really was. He also looked less aged and withered than the Tudors would have us believe: the youthfulness of his reconstructed face, though perhaps exaggerated, does remind us that he was only 32 when he died.

Richard resurrected, thanks to modern science and the art of facial reconstruction.
 Could this really be the face of a tyrant?
It bears remembering how incredible all these finds are in the context of Richard’s memory. The bones could have revealed that he did have a full ugly hunchback, a whitered arm, that he was smaller than other men (he was shown instead to be a normal 5’6-7”), justifying his Shakespearean myth; and they could have shown that he died from a wound in his back, implying that he was running away from battle. Instead they showed an average man who battled scoliosis to live a normal life, and battled his enemies courageously during the last moment of his life—a ‘bonny’ looking lad, as the documentary presenter called him after seeing his reconstructed face. Keeping in mind how unique this archeological discovery is, and how speedy it was, it truly feels like Richard wanted to be found, and set the record straight about himself.

End of Part II. Part III will be published in a few days.

Learn more details about the archeological discovery in this
 article in the Daily Mail.

Watch the Channel 4 documentary, Richard III: The King in the Car Park (contains commercials) at YouTube or Channel 4's website. (Note that it might not play in some countries because of copyright.)

This is what Richard’s last moments at Bosworth Field might have looked like. James McConnell painted this sketch in 1979 for Look and Learn, a British magazine for children, and it rings remarkably true in light of the latest discoveries.

No comments:

Post a Comment