A different point of view on Richard the third.

 I got very much amused by the recent Richard the third’s reburial . Only British people can do that sort of stuff and I love them for this 🙂

Having had to study Richard III by Shakespeare ( without mentioning the tetralogy it belongs to)  once upon a time and, remembering how tiresome that play was, I decided to give him a second chance 🙂 In those days the historical context -the War of the Roses   (1455-1485)- was not the most important approach to get an insight to Shakespeare’s Richard III and, all we could do was to study Shakespeare’s meter, craft, characterization ( the part of the villain being played by Richard: the Elizabethan audience loved intrigue, murder, conspiration and violence), supernatural phenomena   and… make a list of  the puns, jokes he used … et cetera 😉 

 In my memory it was a hell of a play to study and got lost trying to figure out who was who. To top it all,  old English words which hardly made sense, at that time,  to a eighteen- year-old student.   The main character, Richard III, ” a hunchback” behaving like a real mental case, was described as “unfinish’d ” , cruel , brutal, tyrannic and,   murderous. 

Let’s see what comes out of the book The Sunne in Splendour   by Sharon Penman. 

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At the beginning of  Book I, we encounter Richard as a young kid of 7, living with his family and brothers. He is a sensitive child who likes running after foxes, loves his nanny and admires his elder brother Edward nicknamed Ned. Soon after he is caught in the Wars_of_the_Roses between the Lancaster and York families.

The reader is , right from Book I – there are 4 books! -, buried in the battles of the War of the Roses, from 1560 ( Battle  of Wakefield) to 1571 (Battle of Tewkesbury).

Richard Gloucester ( future Richard III) showed unyielding  bravery and absolute loyalty to his brother King Edward IV ( “Ned”) as soon was he was old enough to fight for the Yorkist clan. His badge, the white  boar, was much appreciated on battle fields; it meant courage loyalty, swiftness and reliability. Richard was King Edward’s armed wing.

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Reading that book was an enthralling adventure, it was as if you dived into a  chronicle  of  the XVth century. Tabloid papers would have been on cloud nine had they existed then 🙂 🙂 Fights, battles, treasons, felony, intrigues, betrayals but also life at the royal court with “harlots”,  sycophants, courtiers, unholy bishops … historical events all recorded year by year from 1459 to 1492. A sort of red top chronicle covering three decades and coming to life. Richard III is pictured as a feudal lord, not worst than his contemporaries, far from it.  In fact, he seems to have been most shrewd, intelligent and could have been a remembered ruler, had he had time to govern!

 948 pages later!

Richard III has been sort of rehabilitated. We meet a fictional  character in the flesh, if I may say so 😉 A king who only ruled for two years. History hasn’t been fair to him as the Author’s note original 1982 points out: “It’s never easy to piece together the past. That’s even more true when history was rewritten by the victor. In attempting to distinguish between Tudor tradition and the truth, I gave greatest weight to those chronicles written during Richard’s lifetime of immediately thereafter, relying as little as possible upon Tudor’s sources, for obvious reasons.” 

Was Shakespeare a  propagandist for the House of  Tudor then? Not so sure! Some seem to think otherwise 😉 

For my part, for the first time, thanks to the detailed and recurring appearances  of the historical characters in Sharon Penman’s  storytelling of Richard III , I got more familiar with the protagonists of the late Medieval Ages in England. Moreover, the description of the places where they lived, sent me back to places I wouldn’t mind to visit again.