Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

On Richard III...

Constituents who read my blog looking for information about my work as a ward Councillor for East Finchley must kindly forgive me for a small rant about a personal matter.

History is what I live for. Why I never studied it is a mystery beyond rational comprehension, but it is my favourite subject by far. So with the news today that the digging up of a car park in Leicester had found the remains of King Richard III would, you might expect, bring me joy.

Well it doesn't. I enjoy Tudor history, but would not class myself as a Tudor "fan". They were brutal times after all. I am, first and foremost a seeker of historical truth. That is why I feel a need to respond to all the claptrap in the media today.

Fashion amongst historical writers is to rebut conventional wisdom and say "well you thought this was true of X when in fact it isn't..." It's usually fair to reinterpret some of it. Cleopatra, for example, was a remarkable political player, and deserves to be reconsidered as more than the woman who turned Julius Caesar a bit wrong. It goes the other way as well, King Richard I was lionised (see what I did there) by the Victorians as a defender of Christianity. We know that he was a mass murderer who hated the country he was King of and bankrupted his kingdom.

Richard III has certainly had a degree of "spin" against him. But the level has been much exaggerated. Today they proved he had a curved spine. One of the chief complaints of the Richard III society is that how would he wear armour if he had a hunchback. Lets forget he was a very rich man who could afford to hire armourers o make fitting armour (All armour for nobles was bespoke anyway). Well it seems Polydore Vergil and Sir Thomas Moore (another one being re-evaluated from martyred saint to religious zealot) got it right.

King Richard's fame is best know through the Shakespeare play about him, and the complaint is that this play is "spin" against poor Dickie. Apart from the fact Shakespeare was a critic of the Tudors (in as far as one could be in those days) and his play Richard II got him into serious political problems, again, much of the play is not wrong. They were written from the best historical tracts available at the time, and many of the characteristics are true. Ok Richard didn't have a withered arm, and the name of the Duke he had killed was wrong, but the basic facts are in place.

The reality is that Richard betrayed his brother, King Edward IV, by usurping the throne from his son, Edward V. He declared the children of his brother to be illegitimate, abducted one (and murdered a retainer) and they both went missing under his reign without a doubt. That it was widely believed that there was no doubt in the princes murder is in the action of their mother. If you had a hope your sons were alive, would you plot for another man to marry your daughter and take the throne? Surely you would continue to support the claims of your sons, no matter how remote the chances of them being alive is.

And why was sainted Dickie planning on marrying his niece? Not as odd the as now (remember the totally inbred Hapsburg dynasty) but still a bit weird. And why was he making plans whilst his existing wife was still alive? This has been covered in the most ridiculous of fashions in the historic fiction that gets pumped out.

The reason I get annoyed by the re-writing of the history of Richard III was that I read a book "the Kings Daughter" by Sandra Worth. It was recommended to me, and I hate not finishing a book, which is why I read the whole damn lot of rubbish. As with all these revisions of history, it says Elizabeth of York was wildly in love with her own uncle, and hated her husband King Henry VII. Bollocks. The marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York is considered to be a model of happiness. The happiest since Edward III and till Charles I, or 248 years. If you are going to embellish history, why lie about something well documented? Isn't this the sort of spin that is being accused of being deployed against Richard III?

And then we come to the shambles of today. It says something very sad about the state of British Archaeology that we left such an important dig to the funding of a partisan, who gave the appearance of being a grieving relative. Leicester University have thrown professionalism out of the window for sensation and publicity. And let us not let Channel 4 get away with a truly dreadful, one sided calamity of a programme. What we saw today was not serious academic study, or the excavation of a burial site of a monarch, but a freak show.

I hope that if there is a reappraisal of Richard III, it will be an honest one. It has become too fashionable to write about what a lovely man the nephew imprisoner is. If it isn't Horrible History, which claims to be factual, telling children matter of factly that he did not have any physical deformations (which we have proven today he did) then it ought to be the fiction writers who come up fantasy theories about the disappearance of the princes, and ignore the facts that still exist.

And I seriously hope someone has the courage to stand up to these Richard III society people. Like all myths, they have been seized on by some American nutters, who use the same sort of twisted logic and lies that have made the American right such an obnoxious joke.

One of the reasons I detest this re-writing of history, rather than re-evaluation, is that we can see the seeds of it in our time. I wonder how today's Ugandan Asians would feel about a reappraisal of Idi Amin? Or how victims of Assad in Syria would feel aggrieved if people forgave him "because he was an eye doctor". Genuine re-evaluation yes, fashionable re-writing no. Real historians and history lovers want truth, not spin.

Thank you for allowing my rant. I can't promise this is the last....

N.B Please note this blog post is entirely personal!