JP On Gaming

Sunday, March 29, 2015

[Historical Figures of Renown] Richard III

I don't know how many of you have followed the recent saga of Richard III of England.

A short recap of the story: Richard died shortly after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. In 2012, a corpse was unearthed while work was being done on a parking lot in Leicester. They ran DNA test and the remains were found to very likely be those of the dead king. Richard was interred today in Leicester. His re-burial led to something of a period revival. Not only that, but the search for Richard's descendants and the story of Richard himself has been a story like one finds only on made-for-TV-movie.

Except for Richard did not come back to life.

And he didn't look like Dean Cain.

So, Richard was the last king of the House of York (whose symbol was the white rose), and he was succeeded by Henry Tudor of the house of Lancaster (whose symbol was the red rose). England's symbol, the red rose comes to us from the 15th century.

Today, we know him best through the Shakespearean play that bears his name where he is presented as a hirsute, power-hungry, vile, and deceitful humpback ready to do anything to further his own cause. Great for a play, a clear villain without any true quality. A mastermind of evil. By the way, it is a delightful play, perhaps a tad long, but awesome in so many ways. I recommend one of the many film adaptations, Sir Lawrence Olivier's remains a personal favorite. The play has everything: Murder (after murder after murder), betrayal, conspiracy, a major villain as a protagonist, angry vengeful ghosts, and combat. I easily rate this one as my favorite of Shakespeare's works.

So what makes the discovery of the body so interesting?

First off, the play leads us to believe that he was abandoned in a ditch. The burial site, in the former Grayfriars monastery, indicates that the former king was not just dumped and forgotten. I did some quick searches and he was buried in a chapel. So much for the ditch.

Was he a hunchback? The archeologists made some tests and found that the body did show that his spine was indeed crooked and that he would be standing with one shoulder clearly higher than the other (I keep thinking of Jonathan Frakes' stance). To a medieval person, he would indeed look like something of a hunchback. Shakespeare scores one.

Did he have his nephews killed? (The tower princes) This one will forever remain unclear, but the evidence and circumstantial evidence is very plausible. As long as Edward the Fifth lived, he could never ascend to the throne. Did he order it directly? Indirectly? Or was it done by an ambitious devoted? An opponent trying to paint him as a villain? That much is hard to say, but history certainly puts the blame on him, and he definitely received the bulk of the rewards from his nephews' passing. I'll give Shakespeare the point.

Was he an ignoble, abject person? Here again, my history research leads me to a more middle of the road view.

Was he prone to scheming and plotting? It seems so. During his brother's reign, he switched sides more than a few times, even joining the enemy house of Lancaster under the Earl of Warwick, before returning to his brother's side.

However, before he became king, he acquitted himself well of a number of tasks. He was a general before he was eighteen. He participated in the crucial battle of Tewksbury, restoring his family to the throne. He seemed to have had a sound military mind.

Using Richard III in your game

All of the above make Richard a very very interesting case for this series... Focus on one aspect and he is a villain. Focus on another and he is a genius.

As the Duke of Gloucester, Richard is clearly a schemer and a plotter, with a a fair amount of flair to do it. He can feel which way the wind blows and aligns himself with the likely victor. After all, for most of his adult life, he switched sides with some regularity.

Richard is a man who relied on his luck as he schemed and plotted his way to the top. However, once he got there, he seemed to have lacked the ability to maintain himself there. I suspect because he made too many enemies one his way to the top.

Richard is a man of drive. Someone who wants to get to the top and is willing to do what he needs to, to get there. He's got the skills.

As a king, he's someone isolated. His only legitimate child died within a year of his ascension, leaving him without a clear and stable heir. And during dynastic conflicts like the War of the Roses, not having a sufficiently diverse and numerous issue is a sure-way to get yourself killed.

Richard had to fight against both his house and the Lancasters. He obviously reneged on some deals had to fight two rebellions during his two year rule.

In the end...

I am happy that during my lifetime, his remains were found, leading us to a re-evaluation of this man's life. After all, if history teaches us anything is that people are much more complex than what we find a play. It has to be reviewed and re-examined whenever new evidence is found. Applying Ockham's razor to the evidence and going for the simplest, and usually most likely explanation often leads us to review what we thought was fixed.

So in the end, rest in peace Richard.


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