It was the sainted Sir Thomas More who convinced others that Richard III was a villain. But his description of a hunchback with a withered left arm and his admission that Richard was an effective soldier conflicted. A true hunchback could not hold a shield or wield a sword. I had never heard of the Richard III Society but I started collecting books about Richard, convinced that he was a hero. I helped found the Southwest Chapter of the American Branch of the Richard III Society. As tour coordinator, I visited all Richard’s castles and collected many books and mementos.
When I visited Barnard Castle, I was convinced that Richard kept his nephews there. Barnard is too far north and west to be known in London. The war with the Scots had moved east. Henry Tudor said that Richard gave a house in Barnard Castle (the town) to William Forest for killing the nephews. Actually, he gave the house to William’s widow, Joan. If William was keeping the Princes in the castle, on his death, Joan would have needed a place to live.
I give Shakespeare a pass for his Richard. Will did not know he would be the world’s greatest dramatist and that people would accept what he penned as history. Because he was writing during the reign of the granddaughter of Richard’s murderer, it would have been unsafe to create a hero. So his depiction of Richard as a caricature not a human being was the best Will could do for Richard. Shakespeare’s Richard is the opposite of the historical Richard. Shakespeare’s is harming and amoral. The real Richard was widely loved for his honor and his sense of justice.
We supporters of Richard III hope that the discovery of his bones ignites a new interest in Richard’s accomplishments as King of England.
Don’t judge him by the lies his enemies told after he was dead. Don’t judge him by Shakespeare’s farce. Judge him by the good laws of his too-short reign. Judge him by his motto, “Loyalty binds me.” Loyalty bound him to his brother, Edward IV, to his wife, Anne Neville, to the House of York and to the people of England.
Dale Summers has traveled extensively in England and has visited many of the Richard III-related sites. She holds a Master’s Degree in British history, has taught British history on the college level and writes book reviews on Richard and other British-related topics.