A few sweet days ago, for the first and probably the last time, Richard III was trending on Twitter. Not the character-assassinating polemic written by Will Shakespeare, but the man himself. The skeleton pulled from under a parking lot turned out to be the realdeal and the only British royal I’ve ever had any affinity for would finally get a proper burial and probably get yapped about for a week before everyone forgot about him again.
How my mind exploded!
For years I have talked about this guy to friends, lovers, strangers, enemies, anyone at all who was willing to listen. I joined the Richard III society when I was 13, dressed up as him for Halloween, penned a shitty article comparing him to my favorite basketball player, got his coat-of-arms tattooed on my shin, and generally was a loyal Ricardian for more than half my life now. Loyalty Binds Me, as he would have said.
“History is written by the victors” is something you’ve probably heard a hundred times. Richard is perhaps the best example of this ever. A guy with a pretty good rep in his time was transformed into Satan in a blood-soaked doublet. Here’s what happened: Richard III lost his final battle (Bosworth, 1485), cut down by foes after one last valiant charge. Thanks to Tudor propagandists as well as more esteemed types such as Thomas More and William Shakespeare, the prevailing narrative of Richard III is of unrepentant duplicitous carnage, a scheming serial murderer who smothered a saintly king, drowned his brother in wine (that particular bro did deserve that though), killed his other brother’s sons (possible, but far from conclusive), stole the crown to impose tyranny, murdered his wife to get up on his niece, basically anything nefarious that happened in his general proximity was probably his fault. Oh, also he was a hunchback and was in the womb for two years and was born with a mouth full of fangs.
Of course that weird shit isn’t the truth, but the truth doesn’t get people into the Globe Theater. What seems closer to the truth is that Richard was kind of a medieval Bobby Kennedy, an undersized scrapper living in the shadow of his playboy brother, a formidable man, deeply religious, but with a progressive modern bent unlike the kings that came before. Above all, Richard III was a real person. He was not the ghoul in the shadows, he did bad things, he did good things, he was complicated, conflicted, but I believe in the last analysis, he was one of the good guys.
But that’s just the opinion of this particular dweeb, a dweeb that’s rambled too long on a man he considers great. And since this is Thought Catalog, here’s a Richard III centric list:
1. He established the concept of bail. Quite a lot of people should thank him for this one.
2. He outlawed Benevolences, which were kind of like taxes that Parliament didn’t have to approve. Basically it was a nice ATM for the king.
3. He was the last English king to die on a battlefield. Related: last of the Plantagenent Kings that ruled England for hundreds of years. Other notable Plantagenets include: Richard the Lionheart, Edward I (the evil king from Braveheart), and Henry V, the guy who broke France with some longbows.
4. He was king for a mere two years, 777 days to be exact.
5. Lost his brother, father, uncle, and cousin on the same day in the Battle of Ludlow Castle.
6. Led troops into war at the age of 18.
7. Raised his awful brother’s son and knighted him.
8. Speaking of knighting! He knighted Edward Brampton, the first Jewish knight of England. This was a profoundly progressive gesture.
9. Married his childhood sweetheart, Anne Neville.
10. Londoners didn’t much care for him, but the rough and tumble Northern English embraced him, though his family was typically despised in the North.
11. Spent some terrible months in exile with his big brother in Bruges.
12. Had one “trueborn” son and a few bastards. He provided for them.
13. Instituted the Court of Requests. This is a pretty great thing. It was basically a court in which the poor (unable to afford lawyers and such) could petition their grievances. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but for medieval England, still just a step down from absolute unencumbered monarchy, this shit was revolutionary.
I guess that sums Richard III up. Revolutionary, but gangster.