Thursday 15 March 2012

Its all a matter of reputation

"… the purpose and indeed the strength of the Richard III Society derive from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies - a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for." - Richard current Duke of Gloucester.

I have always been largely convinced that Richard III was guilty of the murder of the Princes in the Tower. This is the version of events that I was taught in school and the line that most basic histories seem to follow. What has always struck me however, is how well and completely the casting of Richard as a despicable villain has been done. Even taking the disputable fact that he murdered the Princes into account, Richard did not deviate massively from the norm of European rulers. Catherine the Great nearly 300 hundred years later (when you would expect people to have improved their behaviour) came to the throne at the head of a coup d'etat that murdered her husband. Henry VIII had the aged and frail Margaret Pole executed largely for the actions of her sons. History is filled with murderers and brigands who rose to prominence through their dastardly deeds and yet few are remembered as being quite so nasty as Richard III.

Our remembering of Richard III is coloured hugely by Shakespeare's representation of him in his play of the same name. The bitter, wizened old hunchback with the withered arm is what we remember, partly because history is written by the winners and partly because Shakespeare's case is written so beautifully. But what was the truth? And more than that does the truth even matter?

A lot of people find the fact that a Richard III society even exists quite strange. Why dedicate so much time and energy to clearing the name of a man who is long dead and beyond caring what people think of him? But the above quote from the current Richard of Gloucester, puts it so beautifully. Truth is a very problematic concept for historians but in many ways it is our primary concern; understanding the truth of the past or as close an approximation as we can get to it.

So while I remained unconvinced of Richard's innocence I am really looking forward to tomorrow's History Lab where the case will be tried and we'll get to hear two well reasoned and thought out arguments for and against Richard Plantegenet. So get down to 1 Salisbury Rd. tomorrow, Friday 16th for tea, cake and the trial of the century!