Been taking an interest in Richard III lately. I read ‘Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey a while ago. Now I’ve finished reading ‘Searching for Richard’ which sadly does highlight how well-written so many other things are. But it does put forward many good points and from it I’ve re-watched the documentary about whether Richard could have really charged into battle. This is of interest as history is written by the winners, there’s a lot from the Tudors about how appalling he was, yet York came out immediately on his death saying “King Richard, late mercifully reigning over us, was through great treason . . . piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city” which given that there was a new King to urgently cosy up to, was brave of them and showed that they really did miss him.
The Tudor historians reduced Richard’s height and abilities in their writing, while at the same time speaking of a man who was bravely leading cavalry charges and fighting to the last. Whether they were attempting to be honest or to show how brave Henry VII was to beat him is unknown, but what is known is that a man who’s bent double and walks sideways is not going to be able to put on a ‘normal’ full suit of armour, see where he’s going on a horse, stay on that horse, lead cavalry charges and until Bosworth win every battle he was in… which is what Richard is recorded as doing.
Physical built is something I’m interested in as I’m the height of “The average Roman”, of Henry VII, of James I and of Charles I (with his head still on). This made studying the Romans, in particular doing ergonomic assessments of what they were actually capable of, much easier than it otherwise would have been. I also find it interesting going round castle and being the only person not to bang their head on doorframes.
QI challenged the ‘scuttling spider’ saying that actually he did everything normally. Then he was found and it was noted he really had had something different with his spine. This horrified the ‘pro-Richard’/’pro-reassessment’ brigade who were worried that the Tudor ideas would be swallowed unchallenged. It was found that he’d had scoliosis, which had appeared in adulthood but the effect of this was unknown. So it was time for a documentary where someone actually attempting it could be filmed. A volunteer who happened to be a medieval re-enactor who spent time at Bosworth Field leaping about with swords was found to have scoliosis of the same type as Richard. This is wonderfully coincidental, but as the medical doctors involved commented, the really unusual bit wasn’t that, it’s that anyone else in the modern era would have had it treated – it was never mentioned why this bloke hadn’t.
Richard’s legs and arms were normal (if gracile, which is a bit odd for someone trained to heft swords about). He wouldn’t have been bent double, but his lungs were beginning to be compressed and it would have been visible if he naturally bent forward without any clothes on, something Joe Public wouldn’t have seen until he was dead. He had a full range of mobility. If he had armour specially made fo him (which all armour was more or less) the outer plates would have covered the back plate and he’d have looked normal. The Tudor idea that Richard approached Bosworth as a panic was unfounded – the records showed he’d prepared for months and had some serious artillery lined up.
But what the book, the documentary and my own experience and training showed was that even if Richard had won Bosworth, his battling days were numbered. Richard knew that he had to look and act the part of king to remain king. The glorious medieval method of battle, which Richard adopted, coincidentally was the one best suited for his physique: on horseback he sat straight and could manoeuvre, on the ground he was quickly out of breath. He’s reported to charge great lengths into battle, fight close quarters, haul a 6ft8 giant in full armour off his horse. Henry VII in contrast is reported to be off a horse so he could hide behind his hired muscle (something even the Tudor historians reluctantly admit). But at Bosworth for whatever reason he ended up on the ground and died soon after.
But as revealed by later tests, Richard was already dying from Kingship. After all, Henry VII died of natural causes at 52, probably a stroke. Richard had to be seen to eat copious meat, he drank two litres of wine daily, he had intestinal worms, which not only would have given him a cough but would also have led to anaemia, something not helped by having compressed lungs. Eventually he’d have had to do all his ruling sat quietly on a throne. Henry VII famously hired more lawyers than anyone (in Europe) before the modern era and only favoured those in court without legitimate children of their own. Richard established a reputation of being fair, loved and worth defending, which should have led to a ripe old age, but until he was properly established as the only king anyone could think of, how long would he have lasted? Cromwell’s death led to a second civil war as he died too soon.