BY ADAM SLEMP
On Feb. 4, scientists at the University of Leicester, in Leicester, England, announced they had successfully identified “beyond all reasonable doubt” a skeleton found last August as the body of King Richard III, the villainous center character of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays.
“One of the reasons that he was badly thought of was of course the play, which is a fantastic play,” said Kathy Donohue, reference librarian at the John Paul II library.
Shakespeare’s Richard the Third is the main reason that people know about King Richard. The picture it paints of him is not flattering. Scheming, treacherous, and hideously distorted with a hunched back and a withered arm, the Richard of the play plotted the deaths of several members of his family and court to take the throne for himself – though he was unable to keep it for long. The reality is far more nuanced than this historical fictionalization would have us believe.
“He had scoliosis of the spine, but yet he lead an army, he was a soldier, we know from historical records that he read very great distances sometimes,” Donohue said from a historical perspective. “He was known to have worn armor, and he went down fighting. So he was certainly no coward.”
She also explained that many of the crimes Richard is commonly accused of have no substantial evidence to back them up. Many crimes were reported as being only rumors. Historians know that in terms of personal conduct, Richard was considered pious and religious for his class. When Richard III died and the War of Roses came to an end, the Tudors defeated him and took control of England. It was under the reign of the Tudors that Shakespeare wrote his play.
The body now known as Richard’s was discovered during a dig in Leicester, England preceding the intentioned construction of a parking lot. It was hoped that the body belonged to Richard, but solid proof only came recently when scientists matched mitochondrial DNA in the skeleton to DNA from two different members from the line of Richard’s sister, Anne of York. In addition, a facial reconstruction was done based on the skull, and it closely matched an existing portrait painted in the lifetime of those that had known Richard. The skull bore multiple battle wounds, there was a metal arrowhead in the body’s back, and the spine was curved and warped, all of which is in keeping with details historians have of Richard’s life and death.
The controversy is still not over. King Richard’s many supporters, including the King Richard Society, are hoping to use this fresh attention to refresh public opinion of the monarch. The matter is still uncertain concerning where Richard’s body will ultimately rest. Both Leicester – where he died and lay for 500 years – and York, his city of origin, hope to claim to the body.