Sunday, 20 October 2013

Conn Iggulden talks War of the Roses and King Richard III

Today's guest blog is by Conn Iggulden a former English teacher. A historical fiction writer he has written books on Julius Caeser, Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan.  Stormbird is the first book in the War of the Roses series which tells the story of the English Civil War.

Last month, the ‘Plantagenet Alliance’, which includes fifteen distant relatives of England’s King Richard III, were granted the right to a Judicial Review to decide the king’s final resting place.  Plans to reinter the skeleton of one of history’s most famous kings in Leicester have had to be halted until the issue is decided: Leicester or York.  The judge warned the parties not to begin a ‘legal War of the Roses 2’, but the gloves are already off.

The skeleton of King Richard III was discovered in Leicester last year.  DNA and carbon dating proved its authenticity, right down to the famous twisted spine.  The license to dig included permission for the king to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral.  Perhaps it is true that no one expected him to be found when that detail was decided, but the city of Leicester is taking it very seriously indeed.  A £1m tomb is already being built and there are plans for a £5m visitor centre.  

Over four years, one lady, Philippa Langley, tracked down the location of Greyfriars Friary.  When she needed £10,000 for the dig, money came in from America, Britain, Canada, even Holland and Austria – a demonstration of the enduring interest in this medieval monarch.  Could they find him?  Moreover, if they could, was Richard the malevolent hunchback of Shakespeare’s play?  Or a much-loved ruler, killed by a usurper at the age of just thirty-two?
The original Wars of the Roses lasted from 1455-1485, as the houses of York and Lancaster fought for the throne of England.  By the fourteen-eighties, the House of York had triumphed and thirty years of conflict had come to an end, with Richard’s older brother crowned as King Edward IV.  When he died of pneumonia, Richard made himself ‘Lord Protector’ while the country waited for Edward’s son to be crowned.  The heir was on his way to his coronation, when he was intercepted by his uncle Richard and put in the Tower of London, ostensibly for his own protection.  The mother of the boys trusted Richard enough to send him the other son as well.  After all, the Tower was then a royal residence as well as a prison, a zoo and the royal mint. 

 It is true that Richard then declared his brother’s marriage invalid, rendering those children illegitimate and unable to become king.  He had himself crowned King Richard III in 1483 and – however it happened – the two Princes in the Tower were never seen again.

There was one Lancastrian lord left who might challenge the house of York, in Wales.  Yet Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was weak and his only choice was to take it with victory on the battlefield.  He raised an army of French and Welsh and the forces met in 1485 at the battle of Bosworth.  King Richard had no heir when that battle began.  He would have known that if he fell, the fate of his line and his house all ended with him. 

From the wounds to his skeleton, we know King Richard took three strikes to his head: a skimming cut from an axe, a dagger thrust that chipped bone and a final fatal blow to the back of his skull.  From historical accounts, we know his body was stripped and tied facedown to a horse to be paraded around Leicester.  A sword or dagger impaled him from behind, a deliberate, brutal humiliation.  All of that is shown in the cuts and breaks of his bones – just as his hunchback was revealed in the great serpentine twist of his spine.

That crooked spine could well have been the seed of all that came later.  In medieval times, it was considered bad luck to even touch a hunchback.  Deformities of any kind were seen as evidence of evil or God’s punishment for misdeeds.  Yet despite constant pain, Richard III was a warrior-king.  Contemporary sources show he was well regarded, even loved by his subjects.  His tainted legend seems to have grown from the House of Tudor’s desperate need for legitimacy.  After all, the worse Richard could be made to seem, the more noble the Tudors became by removing him.

Whatever the truth of the Princes in the Tower, Richard III was made into a monster by historians and playwrights hoping to win Tudor favour.  He was held responsible for the murders of everyone from kings and princes, to his own wife and two of his brothers.

Thanks to Philippa Langley, that shadowy figure has been revealed as a man once more: flawed, without doubt; twisted in body, but no more a monster than any other king of the age.  He lay for five centuries in Leicester, close to where he was killed.  I would have thought it was about time to send him home – to York.

The video for Stormbird can be seen below.

More information about Conn Iggulden can be found on his website.  You can also follow him on Twitter at @Conn_Iggulden.     

 Wars of the Roses: Stormbird, (£18.99, HB, Michael Joseph, 10th October)

1 comment:

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.