You might expect me to have written something about the re-interment of Richard III which has taken place today (all this week, really). After all, Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and most quotable characters – as well as being a favourite of mine.
But it doesn’t seem appropriate to conflate Shakespeare’s villain with the real, undoubtedly more complex man. Particularly at this time, when he has at last been granted the recognition which seems due to a monarch – even such a controversial one. The last three years have very much been about the man rather the legend – we know now that he did have scoliosis, but likely not the massive hunchback often depicted. There is no evidence that he had a withered arm. Rather than being “rudely stamp’d”, facial reconstruction revealed a man described as “warm, young, earnest and rather serious”.
He was the last English king to be killed in battle, and this is reflected in the horrific injuries he was found with – part of his skull was completely sliced away, possibly by a halberd. A second head wound penetrated all the way through the skull. Post-mortem injuries were inflicted on his body, including a blow to the right buttock so deep as to cut the pelvis.
The discovery of Richard’s bones does not materially add to our knowledge of the period, or the detail of his reign. We may never the truth of whether he killed the Princes in the Tower. We do know he was 32 – just one year older than I am now – when he died.
The page title is not a quote from Shakespeare, for the reasons I set out above. It’s from Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, set out in full below.
My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; you own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.
These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …
or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.