Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Curtail’d of this fair proportion - Richard III

I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;…
                                       - Act I, Scene I, Richard III, W. Shakespeare

The University of Leicester has formally identified the remains it recovered recently under a car park at Grey Friars, Leicester as Richard III, King of England, 1483-1485, the last of the Plantagenets.

The BBC has ample coverage (and a terrific gallery of images from which the above was sourced).  From an archaeologist's perspective, the research that uncovered Richard III has demonstrated how history, archaeology, genetics and science can cross-pollinate spectacularly to unearth a 528-year old mystery.

Richard III is probably one of history's most controversial and notorious monarchs, fueled by a vivid and villainous portrayal by William Shakespeare among others, who had a vested interest in buttressing and justifying the subsequent Tudor rule from Henry VII to Elizabeth I.  Whether Richard III was guilty of the crimes that history has tarred him with (namely the disappearance and probable deaths of his brother's two young children so he could secure the throne by almost literally stepping over their corpses) will probably never be completely known, but the Richard III as a character, as a metaphor for unchecked ambition and ruthless endeavor is everlasting.

Someone commented "So what?  What does it matter to us today?" on one news article, a bit of sophistry that infuriates me.  As the old adage goes, those who forget their past are condemned to repeat it but beyond that aphorism lies a deeper understanding:  having an appreciation and comprehension of the past allows you to connect with and understand the forces that drive the present, the long ribbon of connectivity and effect that provides context and knowledge.  History is that shared experience a society carries that helps facilitate its very foundation.  Having a clear understanding of the drivers and fundamentals of your own society necessitates a grasp of history, of knowing the whys and whats of the past, in order to determine your future.

The recovered skeletal remains bear the marks of ten wounds, eight to the head alone, a testament to the fury and chaotic violence of the medieval battlefield.  Richard III will be laid to rest again in Leicester Cathedral, a somewhat more dignified fate then he suffered in death, having been hauled off Bosworth Field, paraded around and dumped into a grave at Greyfriars Church, supposedly without ceremony and in an unmarked grave.  Without a doubt, Leicester will build a museum and experience a nice tourism upheaval in the wake of the discovery, at long last "made glorious summer by this sun of York."

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