Loyaulte me lie

English: Bosworth Field: Richard III and Henry...

English: Bosworth Field: Richard III and Henry Tudor engage in battle, prominently in the centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Author’s note: I fell in love with English history reading about the Plantagenets when I was a kid. From Henry of Anjou, grabbing the divorced former Queen of France, and one of the most beautiful, and headstrong, women in Christendom, shortly before he became Henry II of England, thereby creating the Angevin Empire all the way to Richard III, who lost it all to Henry Tudor at Bosworth field, and whose body has just been identified under a parking lot, they are a fascinating bunch.

From the best of Kings, like Edward I, called the “English Justinian” long before he was called “The Hammer of the Scots”, to King John, who was so bad that he brought about the Barons in arms allied with the church behind the Archbishop of Canterbury, forcing his signature on Magna Charta, they were always fascinating, often wise and quite often very good Kings for their subjects.

On average they were far more friendly to individual liberty than the Anglo-Normans that preceded them or the Tudors who followed.]

Yesterday, my co-author Jessica told us a bit about the finding of the body of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, under a parking lot in Leicester, her article is here, and we were one of the first to notice the story in this country here, here, and here back in September. It’s a story that fascinates many of us, not least because if you read any English history, you’ll find the Plantagenet kings and queens to be larger than life from the founder of the dynasty Henry II and his fabulous wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (if you want to read about a very strong woman in a man’s world, she would be a great choice) to the execrable John, who was forced to give us Magna Charta, not to mention his brother Edward the Black Prince, that fabled Crusader and King, right on down to Richard III who was the very last to wear the White Rose of the House of York in the War of the Roses.

The Anglo-Normans who preceded them always seemed sort of cold, and the presentment of Englishry, which was an occupation measure, denied justice to most of the population, and Henry VII who came after was a cold, acquisitive man, and after him we get into to the religious persecutions, and with the exception of Elizabeth I, I just never found too much appeal in any of them.

I note that the Catholics in England are calling for a State Funeral for Richard, which doesn’t seem terribly unreasonable to me, although I don’t have to pay for it, and some have called for a re-examination of the remains of two skeletons found in the 17th century who are believed to be the Princes in the Tower. The Queen has said no, so that’s an end of that.

If you don’t happen to know the Princes in the Tower were the sons of Edward IV and his Queen Elizabeth Woodville. They went into the Tower of London in June of 1483, shortly after that they were seen playing and then just disappeared. Their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester had them declared illegitimate by Parliament (an act entitled Titulist Regulus) and then ascended the throne as Richard III.

Richard has always been suspected, of either killing them or at least giving the order but, there are plenty of suspects. There is Sir James Tyrrell, a Yorkist knight, there is Henry, 2d Duke of Buckingham, and there is also, of course Henry VII (Tudor) who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field and married their older sister. It’s a great mystery that most likely will never be solved. Incidentally, if most of what you know about this comes from Shakespeare, you need to broaden your horizons, Shakespeare was writing under the Tudor Kings and probably liked to eat (he was dependent on court patronage) as well as having his head firmly on his shoulders. Getting your history from playwrights has the same drawbacks as getting it from Hollywood.

I personally have problems with believing that Richard was the grasping, power-hungry man who Shakespeare portrays. His record as Duke of Gloucester is very interesting reading. He was a very loyal supporter of his brother and earned a reputation as a very good man as Lieutenant of the North. Here is a bit from Wikipedia

Richard’s Council of the North, derived from his ducal council, greatly improved conditions for Northern England, as commoners of that region were formerly without any substantial economic activity independent of London. Its descendant position was Secretary of State for the Northern Department.

In December 1483, Richard instituted what later became known as the Court of Requests, a court to which poor people who could not afford legal representation could apply for their grievances to be heard. He also introduced bail in January 1484, to protect suspected felons from imprisonment before trial and to protect their property from seizure during that time. He founded the College of Arms in 1484,he banned restrictions on the printing and sale of books, and he ordered the translation of the written Laws and Statutes from the traditional French into English.

England has a bad history with child kings by the way, Henry III reigned long but not well, during the latter part he was a figurehead for Simon de Montfort, Edward II was killed not for his homosexuality but because of his smart-aleck and overly greedy favorites like Piers Gaveston who manage to offend almost everybody, as well as because Edward was a very poor general in the wars with Scotland and France. Edward was eventually deposed by his wife Isabella of France, in favor of his son who became Edward III. There was also Richard II who succeeded at the age of 10, and while contemporaries say he acquitted himself well during the Peasant’s Revolt as he grew into adulthood he became badly out of tune with his barons and was eventually deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster, some sources say this was the effective start of the Wars of the Roses.

Richard III would have known all this, and also knew that Edward V (the oldest Prince in the Tower) was 12, what would he have thought?

The other thing we need to talk about is less exciting than Lords and Ladies but also quite important. England in the middle ages was almost entirely an agricultural land. The only real source of wealth was agriculture, with a very few exceptions, such as the de la Poles, who sprang from a merchant. In Medieval England the way to get rich was to get land, and the best way to get land was to be related to the King and/or Queen. Now throw in a generations long civil war (mostly amongst the nobility but extending to the gentry as well) and you have a wide open chance for corruption to hold sway.

Edwards IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville came from a very large family and they were all greedy for land and honors, and Edward was in need of supporters. Which reminds me of the old American saw that came from the Credit Mobiliér scandal, when one of the financiers attempted to defend himself on a charge of bribing a Congressman by say that he asked for and took it. So here we have a situation where the family of his ward would fatten itself off of the King’s (and his mother’s) favor irregardless of the good of the realm.

And, so

As we here in the colonies move into the 5th year of the reign of King Barack I, what do we have but an inexperienced and corrupt king who rewards his courtiers with no thought for his commons, in fact denigrating them, and attempting to take away the rights of free men. We all know the story of Baroness Nancy of San Fransisco, of the Duke of Solyndra, the Earl of Windmill, and all the others. Veritably a story of a child king.

What would Richard III, a man who served his brother the King loyally and well, as a soldier and general, as a Duke, and Lord Lieutenant of the North, and as a man who might have been one of the best of English Kings have thought of all this? Would he see a comparison with the Woodville family? I surely do.

Does Richard have a message for us? You see when he decided to become King his title was

Lord Protector of England

not regent of Edward V

Did he maybe have a conflict of loyalties between his loyalty to not-yet-crowned Edward V and his family and his loyalty to England itself? I think he did. I think he assumed the crown not because of overweening ambition, which he had never shown before in life. I think he assumed it because he had a higher duty to England.

The title of this piece is Loyaulte me lie, it was Richards personal motto, in English it is

Loyalty Binds Me

I think it did, and I think he does have a lesson for us about loyalty, whatever the cost

Loyaulte me lie

First archaeological search for the grave of an anointed King of England.

Richard III’s standard featuring his symbol, the white boar, and his motto ‘Loyaulte me lie’ (loyalty binds me).

King Richard III of England

Leicester’s statue of Richard III

We’re going to talk about a bit of history today, just because I like the story, no especial lesson in this one.

Back in 1485 Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England was killed at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry VII who became the first Tudor King. You’ve probably heard all about it from the most famous propagandist in English history, one William Shakespeare. There’s a lot wrong historically with that account, that we’ll not go into here, at least today. This much is true though, the Lancastrians under Henry won and the Yorkists under Richard lost. Soon Henry would marry Elizabeth of York and the War of the Roses would end.

Richard was killed in the battle, stripped, mutilated and taken to the Greyfriars church for burial. In due course Henry VII was succeeded by his son Henry VIII, who famously split from Rome. After this he ordered the dissolution of the Monasteries which we talked a bit of before here. Greyfriars in Leicester was no exception. Over time Richard III’s grave. alone of English Monarchs became lost. As it happens, the University if Leicester is conducting an archeological dig and think they have found Greyfriars and sound hopeful that they may find the remains of Richard III as well. This is the update from 5 September. First ever archaeological search for the grave of an anointed King of England begins — University of Leicester.

The University of Leicester has begun one of the most exciting archaeological investigations it has ever carried out. No less than a search for the bodily remains of the last Plantagenet King – Richard III – killed at the Battle of Bosworth.

Every other English Monarch has a known resting place, but not Richard III. He has no tomb because his mortal remains have been lost in the passage of time. Recent research has begun to indicate a possible location of where the King ought to be – if he’s anywhere.

Underneath a Leicester City Council car park.

Richard was killed in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth (the last significant battle of the War of the Roses that pitched Richard’s Yorkists against the Tudor Lancastrians), just up the road from the City of Leicester. His body was brought back and publicly displayed, then interred by the Grey Friars, a local order of Franciscan monks. A few years later, a tomb was erected within the Grey Friars’ church. Meanwhile the victor of Bosworth, Henry Tudor, was crowned King Henry VII – then in 1538 his son, Henry VIII, split from Rome. Across the land monasteries were demolished and dissolved, and the Grey Friars were no exception.

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Memorial stone to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral.

As Leicester flourished and expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries, the land in the ‘Greyfriars’ area of the city was built on and the precise location of the original church lost underneath houses, although a monument marking Richard’s grave was apparently still on the spot as late as 1612.

Recognising Richard

The University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, have joined to begin the search.

The car park will be surveyed using ground-penetrating radar on Friday 24 August. Then on Saturday 25 August – 527 years to the day since Richard was buried* – Dr Richard Buckley from our School of Archaeology and Ancient History and his team of ULAS archaeologists will start work on two trenches across the car park. Dr Buckley discusses the project in this seven-minute video interview:

The trenches will run North-South and should intersect with the church’s East-West walls (helpfully, Christian churches are usually built on the same alignment). The ULAS team shouldn’t have to dig too deep as, although there are hundreds of years of remains to get through, the actual strata are fairly shallow. Previous Leicester excavations have shown that the Roman layer is less than a meter down – and if you reach that, you’ve gone way past 1485.

The work will continue for two weeks and will culminate in an event over the weekend of 8-9 September when the project will be open to the public. It will then take another week or so to fill in the trenches, tarmac over everything and let the Council have their car park back.

R3Soc Plaque-PLsmall.jpg
Memorial plaque on Grey Friars Street, erected by the Richard III Society in 1990.

For the first time ever there is a small but genuine possibility that Richard’s remains might be located. Or at least, some human remains, because obviously he wasn’t the only person buried in the church. Genealogical research by Dr John Ashdown-Hill, author of The Last Days of Richard III, has uncovered a direct descendant of Richard’s sister, and thus we have access to the King’s mitochondrial DNA sequence. If any human remains turn up under the car park, the resources of our world-leading Department of Genetics will come into play, led by Dr Turi King. Any remains found will be tested to see if the last Plantagenet King has been found.

Should the remains prove to be King Richard III, a massive logistical exercise will come into play to provide him with a burial that is appropriate to his status as an anointed King of England.

Re-evaluating Richard

Richard III has had a bad press over the years, not least through the writings of one William Shakespeare. History, as they say, is written by the victors and in Tudor England it was politically astute to rubbish the previous dynasty. Generations of schoolchildren were taught that Richard had a hunchback and a withered arm and that he murdered the Princes in the Tower, all of which are now, shall we say, seriously in doubt. Fortunately, today’s young historians have more reliable resources

Leicester has many connections with Richard, who stayed here on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth at the Blue Boar Inn. There is a statue of Richard on St. Augustine Road, a number of plaques and even a pub called The Last Plantagenet. Bosworth Battlefield itself remains a major local tourist attraction.

Here at the University, our New History Lab, working with the Richard III Society, staged acourtroom trial of the King last year to determine whether he was really guilty of the crimes which are associated with his name. And students from our School of English enhanced their understanding of Shakespeare’s play by studying sword-fighting techniques at the Bosworth Battlefield Visitor Centre. King Richard III’s most recent appearance on campus was in June as part of LUTheatre’s Shakespeare Marathon.

Marvellous though the Bard’s work is, the play is now well-known as propaganda which unfairly besmirched a well-loved monarch who made a number of significant improvements to British law. Now, finally, through historical, archaeological and genealogical research, there may be a chance to pay Richard III his dues and provide him with a resting place more fitting than a City Council car park.

Richard III: not a below-par King, just below parking.

Social Services Car Park2.JPG
The Greyfriars car park. Up to now, the only royalty found here has been an Austin Princess.

*If we conveniently forget the eleven-day difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

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