Richard III, history and the pressing needs of a modern university…

I don’t know if you watched it, but C4 had a documentary on the uncovering of Richard III last night. R3, it seems, may have been more significant as a fictional character in Shakespeare than as an significant monarch in the history of the English state. A mere punctuation between prolonged civil war (as the natural condition of English public affairs) and the construction of a modern centralised state under Henry Tudor.

Freakiest of all (isn’t that the trademark of C4 documentaries these days?), it turns out he was buried under the letter ‘R’ inscribed on the tarmac of a Leicester car park in ground that had once fallen inside the walls an old priory church.

At an hour and a half you feel the producers are taking too long to tell what is compelling human story. And it does comprise some strange elements. One of those was the figure of Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, who having told the diggers exactly where to find him, bit by bit is confronted with the truth that in at least some part Richard was almost exactly as the propagandistic Tudors had painted him, in appearance at least.

But historian Mary Beard writing from New York expresses her own disquiet and asks whether the slow steady and thorough pace of university research is being prematurely chased out into the light in search of publicity, and more to the point, funding:

What put me off was a nexus of things to do with funding, university PR, the priority of the media over peer review, and hype… plus the sense that — intriguing as this was, a nice face to face moment with a dead king — there wasn’t all that much history there, in the sense that I understand it.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I dislike intensely university commercial style marketing — the posters on campus telling you that the Uni of X is a “global leader”/”in pursuit of excellence”/”making great ideas come true” or whatever. We’re universities for heavens sake, not companies — and we will be judged by our results, not by slogans. The first thing I saw when I looked at my screen was an absolute forest of logos proclaiming “University of Leicester”… getting the brand out there.

Now I am sure that any University would have done the same. We (that’s uni’s) are so desperate for cash to fund research that we all think that we need to get our name out to attract funding. And there are hundreds of people in uni press offices throughout the land trying to place (and hype) any research story they can to get publicity for the institution.

I wouldn’t mind if this was really about the dissemination of knowledge, but it’s usually not — it is about column inches. (Indeed I have heard people from uni press offices talk of their success in terms of exactly that, and not minding too much if the account is a bit egged.)

Then I found myself thinking… this is a complicated bit of scientific analysis being given its first outing in a Press Conference, not ever having been through the process of peer review. DNA evidence is tricky and any scientist would want their results peer evaluated before going completely public. OK, I see that there is a tricky dividing line.

We want to have us, the public, informed of what’s been going on — and we dont necessarily think it is a great idea that we should all have to wait for that for months or years, until the academic seal of approval has been granted. But the idea of the publication of research by press conference isnt one I feel very comfortable with (as a member of the public, I want not just a story, but a validated story).

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  • JR

    I watched the program last night and really enjoied it. The human interest aspect was facinating for me. The most interesting was seeing the woman phillipa on what everyone else thought was a wild goose chase and how everyones attitude slowly changed as each pieve of evidence pointed more and more to the conclusion that this was exactly who she was looking for. I also enjoied the curious mix of Mytholgy, Science and superstition and watching the program I got the real sense that 500 years is both a very long time and a very short time.

    Even the human story of the man who was a king one day heading confidantly into battle was paraded dead and naked the very next, trussed over the back of a hourse with somthing shoved up his arse.

    Also, as I understand it, the research to verify who it was took place over three years.

  • Gopher

    I was fortunate enough to be given a guided tour of a well establish and reputable tscientific establishment and was amused that they got most of their funding from companies trying to disprove global warming. How scientific!

    Two of the finest historians Hume and Gibbon would never be published today. I also recall a few years back Origin of Species was quoted by a prestigious American university along with mien kampf on a list they had prepared (how studious) on the most evil books in history. He who pays the piper.

    History just ain’t what it used to be

  • [Declaration of interest: a distant ancestor died at Bosworth. The news apparently killed his grandfather the following day. Just don’t know which side the dead party was on. Since a later ancestor was severely fined by the Cromwellians for being Royalist, and a later connection put loyalty over denomination and was with James at the Boyne, I’d guess the law of averages applies and it was wrong side. Anyway, nobody has come looking for the Redfellow DNA.]

    While I see, even admire Mary Beard’s desiccated academicism, this is not that sort of story.

    What was unearthed was that (when I made a small scrape as a juvenile would-be archaeologist) we called a “bod”. As I recall, had it any flesh, it would have been a “stiff”.

    Carbon dating suggests late 15th/early 16th century. The DNA narrows it to 1% of the population — which still leaves considerable doubt. There is the spinal curvature, which could connect to the anecdotes of Richard’s reported deformity (of which there was a lot about in those days). There is the location, none too distant from Market Bosworth. A lot of coincidence and circumstantial evidence; but it needs an imaginative leap to “this is Richard III”. That’s what Beard means by I want not just a story, but a validated story.

    Quite frankly, Mary, Mary, quite contrary, that absolute certainty is never going to be on these cards.

    So, why shouldn’t the University, the Richard III Society, C4 and everyone else — including, by the look of it, St Martin’s, Leicester — have their bit of fun? Particularly if it rustles up a bit of that moolah the present philistine government refuses for such instructive ends.

    Moreover, it provides the political cartoonists with a peg to hang hats on. Peter Brookes, in the Times, goes with the pack with Huhne in mind. Steve Bell, in The Guardian, rather more imaginative.

    Repeat in your best Edith Evan as Lady Bracknell imitation: “A carpaaark?”

  • Obelisk

    Fascinating story all told, York and Leicester may even be gearing up for one last tilt at each other over the matter

    But one thing in the above article caught my eye, and please remember it has nothing to do with other matters…

    A representative from the Diocese of Leicester describes the proposed burial ceremony as

    “The type of ceremony which takes place in Leicester Cathedral is to be determined by the staff of Leicester Cathedral but it would be open to consultation.

    It would most likely be a Church of England ceremony; Simple, elegant and appropriate.”

    If Richard died in the late fifteenth century, didn’t he die a Catholic monarch? If the York camp is right, his wish would have been to have been buried in a Catholic ceremony in York rather than an Anglican ceremony in Leicester.

    Why are his presumed wishes being so easily ignored? He may or may not have been a monster, we just don’t know. Shouldn’t his last wishes be respected?

  • Greenflag

    And then there was Richard II the vanquisher of Wat Tyler and the leader of two expeditions to Ireland to receive the ‘submissions ‘ of the Irish Chieftains . Was he the father of Richard III ?

    Heres a piece on Hotspur

    Northumberland’s son Henry, known as “Harry Hotspur,” also joined Henry of Bolingbroke. Hotspur was a local hero for his part in the Battle of the Otterburn (1388,) where the Scots leader William Douglas was killed.

    Hotspur was the son of Mary Plantagenet, the granddaughter of Edward I’s brother Edmund Crouchback, and so he was related to both Richard II and Henry.

    Crouchback sounds like a moniker for a physical deformity ?

    BTW they were all ‘monsters ‘ in one way or another . They had to be -that was the nature of ‘aristocratic ‘rule . The biggest and most powerful ‘thug ‘ or family of ‘thugs ‘ gets all the dosh . Like modern day hedge fund managers /banksters /mega corporations etc . Although Magna Carta watered down the ‘powers’ of the King nonetheless they remained considerable up to the beheading of King Charles by Cromwell’s parliamentarians .

  • Greenflag @ 5:57 pm:

    Crouchback sounds like a moniker for a physical deformity ?

    It does indeed. The nickname was attached to Edmund Plantagenet (1245-1296), 1st Earl of Lancaster. Some sources suggest that, in his case, ‘Crouchback’ is a corruption of ‘Crossback’. He had joined Prince Edward Longshanks on the Ninth Crusade (and the last) of 1271-2; and so was entitled to wear the crusader’s cross.

    Now refer to Alison Hanham: Richard III and his early historians, 1483-1535, who apparently has this earliest known reference in full. I don’t have this text; and am regurgitating what sources I can.

    It seems there was a post-Christmas, 1490, booze-up at the house of John ‘Painter’ and William ‘Plumber’, So we’re already five years after Richard’s death.

    This social occasion degenerated into a bust-up, even a “domestic”. As a result, in May 1491, John ‘Painter’ and William ‘Plumber’ were ‘detected’ of treason for what they were supposed to have said to John Burton, the schoolmaster of St Leonard’s. Burton, in turn, is reported to have said: King Richard was an hypocrite, a crouch back, and buried in a dike like a dog.

    I’m doing a bit elsewhere on Shakespeare’s sources and other fluff. Should go up shortly.

  • GEF

    Both Cathedrals Leicester and York were pre reformation built and as Richard 111 was Catholic any religious ceremony in whatever Cathedral they bury him should be conducted by joint Catholic and Anglican clergy before he is interned again.
    Both Arch Bishops should attend as a mark of respect to each
    other’s religion. Whenever they are making out the guest list whatever they do please please don’t invite Lord Bannside.

  • GEF
  • Reader

    Obelisk: If Richard died in the late fifteenth century, didn’t he die a Catholic monarch? If the York camp is right, his wish would have been to have been buried in a Catholic ceremony in York rather than an Anglican ceremony in Leicester.
    He died before the reformation, so neither side can reasonably claim him, and it’s only in recent years that either lot would want to.
    However, if historians could find his position on Transubstantiation, Assumption, Intercession and the Immaculate Conception we could pigeonhole him OK.

  • Reader @ 9:18 am ought to have the last word on this denominational nonsense.

    Except for one small detail (which I could embellish with more detail): Richard of Gloucester owned a Wycliff bible (a.k.a. the “Lollard bible”) of 1390 — condemned by the Church in 1407.

  • GEF

    “Richard III was a Catholic and should be buried in a Catholic church”

  • GEF @ 3:02 pm:

    Cryptic post, indeed. And apologies to Reader @ 9:18 am for going back on my assurance above.

    Assuming the re-interment is at Leicester cathedral, he will be buried in a Catholic Church, albeit one of the Anglican persuasion.

    Moreover, St Martin’s (which became a cathedral only in1927) is a worthy and venerable building. As I recall, all the main structure (except the spire and porch) are pre-Reformation (13th-early 16th centuries), which makes them Catholic by any definition.

    Now can we wonder if Richard was a “good” Catholic. Apart from that Wycliff bible (enough in itself to get lesser beings put to the question), there’s the little matter of marrying your cousin without a dispensation — one came along later, somewhat too late and mis-stated to be entirely credible. Shakespeare, borrowing from More and the other Tudor propagandists, makes all that into a gruesome rape. What evidence there is, suggests that it was as much of a love-match as any of these things.

    Anne Neville was the none-too-saddened widow of Prince Edward (killed at Tewkesbury); but Richard and she had known each other since 1460, when he was fostered by the Nevilles at Middleham Castle. The marriage was opposed by Richard’s brother Clarence, who made clear there would be no money to go with it. Richard even made Anne what would now be a pre-nip.

  • GEF @ 3:02 pm:

    I see that hot-link should have been (I assume) to Cristina Odone’s article in the Daily Telegraph.

    She is proposing re-burial at Westminster Cathedral, because:

    John Francis Bentley’s red brick building in Victoria is little-known outside the country’s four million plus Catholics – it could do with a celebrity occasion to boost its profile.

    Nah! It didn’t work for me, either.

    In my previous post, ignore the grievous lack of agreement between subject and verb: all the main structures … are pre-Reformation.

    and pre-nip should be pre-nup (that old spellcheck problem — it’s happened three times even in this “correction”).

  • GEF
  • Malcolm, I’ve only just found your comments. Just for the record, in addition to the 1390 Wycliff bible, Richard’s hetrodox interests extended to even more esoteric themes. He also corresponded with Marcilio Ficino, the celebrated Florentine Neo-Platonist, and translator of much of what made the Renaissance a true re-birth of knowledge.

    His rival Henry, I believe, corresponded with Florentine Bankers…..

    And the poor man is principaly remembered for a physical deformity! Shakespere has a lot to answer for….