What can one say about Richard III that hasn’t already been written or said? It’s a good question. It would seem that there is only a limited amount of resources, actual documentation at our disposal. Of course, then there’s that play. That travesty that has appeared to condemn Richard since the quill touched parchment. For so long, it would appear that Shakespeare did more damage to Richard than any person could have done. Nothing that has been written was ever taken so much as the truth than what Shakespeare wrote in his historical play. It might as well have been carved in stone.
The description of Richard III is so monstrous that one has a very vivd picture of what a monster would truly look like. The embodiment of evil. Teeth still in his head, hair to his shoulders and having stayed in his mother’s womb for two years. Let’s stop there. Two years? What was Richard, an elephant? Any person with half a bit of sense in their head would have read that and questioned anything and everything else within the pages of More’s “History of King Richard III”. However, when you mix this conglomeration of fantasy with just a few kernels of truth, you have a story that many will take as absolute fact.
Tudor propaganda, let’s get rid of this term. What this term does is incite the masses who believe in the tyranny that was Richard and set them in defensive mode. Let’s simply approach the research, the facts, and the rolls that have been written down. Let’s look at the absolute facts, dates and names of the players involved. When we confront those issues, there leaves considerable doubt and it totally destroys both Shakespeare and More. There just isn’t enough substance to sustain the fiction.
The one thing that I have noticed during my research of the Wars of the Roses and Richard III is that many historians don’t seem to place much trust in the context of when something was written. They read the words, and since it may be a primary or even a secondary source, they take it as fact and write about it. They point their educated fingers at what was written down and say “Here, this proves everything”. It truly doesn’t. When one is looking at these sources, and reading them, they must keep in mind that these are words written down and could be biased. What was going on during the time that the writer wrote what they wrote, or what was going on when they said what they said? What political intrigues, could be happening that the public may be hearing, and repeating and the writer happened to overhear it? Who is the mentor who is encouraging the writer to write? Often times, students are influenced by their mentors, and teachers. We need to know who the people within the document may be and where the heart and mind of the writer may be. If we know the characters and we can spend time learning about them as well as the document, then it can make more sense and make the reader question or confirm what they’re reading as a better truth and grasp of context as well as fact.
If we look at St. Thomas More, we need to look at the time in which he was writing. Some historians say that he was merely copying a letter that his mentor John Morton had been writing. Others say it was his own thoughts and ideas that went on to the paper. If we simply read the words as a person who has no knowledge of Richard III, then the monster of Shakespeare would become what we would believe to be a truly disfigured tyrant.
This was one of the first sources I had read when I first started down the path of discovering Richard III. I was disgusted by what I had read, but at the same time, the obvious problems within the text itself made me question what I was reading. I knew nothing of the dates involved with Edward IV and thus I couldn’t draw an acceptable conclusion on the timeline. But, other written words by More definitely weren’t right. Two years in his mothers womb, teeth in his head, etc. Not possible. So, my brain went to work and I started questioning and putting to task every word and every so-called fact I read. I expanded my search by using other names within the text. Questioned who these people were and where their loyalties appeared to lie. I started to develop a very different picture of Richard III as well as the events that surrounded him and the Wars of the Roses.
Critical thinking; a way of looking at something and questioning what you’re looking at from different angles in order to put together a proper, logical picture. One could remember the parable of the three blind men, each trying to describe what an elephant looked like to the other. One blind man was at the front of the elephant, another in the middle, and the third at the back end of the elephant. Each had a different picture of what it looked like. Each of the blind men had a small piece of the puzzle, and each man felt he knew what an elephant looked like. We have to be all three of the blind men when it comes to looking at history. We have to put it all together in order to see the big picture in order to make sense of it. In order to do that, we also have to discern between fact and fiction. Sometimes this is an easy task and sometimes it isn’t. We must label it the best we can and if it can be plausible or justifiable or even true, label it for what it is, set it aside and move on.
When I took the free course from Leicester University “England in the time of Richard III”, I was actually excited. I thought it would be a good way to get more resource information. I was pretty disappointed, to put it mildly. I had done a great deal of research before the class began, but I continued to plod through the course and hope for something new. Something that would break the walls down and then we’d definitely have an answer. It never came. What did come from this class was a realization that the divide between Lancaster and York, the red rose and the white rose was a divide that was just as deep as it had been over 500 years ago. When it came down to a particular course chapter, I was disgusted to see that there were only two sources presented and used as actual fact against Richard III; More and Shakespeare. The discussion went just as one would have expected. One sided. One student feeding the other and reinforcing the bad source material as being fact the poisonous opinions chimed in. Not a single word from the instructor to rein in the mayhem and escalation that was occurring. The instructor’s silence became encouragement.
In order to combat such behavior from some historians, professors, teachers, and those who would depend on such shallow sources, we need to figure out how to dissect the sources, pull the true facts away from the true fiction and focus on those facts.
I would have to say that the many Ricardians I know are on the right track. I say this because, if we weren’t, the insults would not be hurled in our direction at all. Instead, they seem to be getting more and more creative with their insults. Yes, they are degrading, but I look at the list and those spewing these disparaging names as a sign that they are now feeling threatened by our findings and our willingness to challenge theirs. Ricardians are gaining ground in the discovery of who Richard III truly was and it’s scaring the daylights out of those who seem to think they have the upper hand. The tide is turning, and we have to keep fighting with the truth and not waiver. All the opposition has is the same regurgitated fiction that has been written, read and repeated for so long. If they would take the time they spend in creating new insults to hurl our direction, and apply it to the sources, there would no longer be an argument.
19 November 2017