X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

Reading Richard III

4 February 2013

1:32 PM

4 February 2013

1:32 PM

The confirmation that bones found beneath a Leicester car park are ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ those of Richard III has launched a deluge of familiar puns. ‘A hearse! A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse!’ say numerous wags on Twitter.

I wonder if Richard III would be remembered so widely today were it not for Shakespeare. The character of the play, who speaks some of the most famous lines in English, is descended from the portrait drawn by Sir Thomas More in an uncompleted history written at various points throughout the 1510s.

Many historians argue that More wrote the book to please the Tudors. This is, it is said, why he drew on the work of Polydore Vergil, an Italian churchman commissioned by Henry VII in the early 1500s to write a new history of England, which included an account of Richard’s many alleged misdeeds and usurpation providing some much needed ballast for the Tudors’s flimsy claim to the throne.

[Alt-Text]


Against this interpretation is the relative absence of Henry VII from More’s text. A further layer of complexity is created by the persecution More’s father suffered at the hands of Henry VII.  These facts have led others to assert that More was writing a broad account of tyrannical monarchy rather than a straight history. Fear of tyranny, it is argued, forced More to self-censor and confine his message that evil always meets it just deserts to the past.

Another school of thought says that More was experimenting with form by writing a dramatic, literary account inspired by the techniques of the Classics. Those techniques were in the process of being rediscovered and revived by the learned pan-European elites among whom More moved. The work, it is suggested, was meant for these private audiences; but it should be noted that these elites were often part of the power networks that dominated politics and public life at the time (as More himself did, first as a lawyer and then as an administrator), so the line between public and private was blurred.

The late Elizabethan statesman Francis Bacon famously remarked that ‘truth is the daughter of time not of authority.’ The Richard III of More and Shakespeare has become the basis for the standard view. There is, obviously, another side to the story, or at least another shade. The historical case is put best, ironically, in a novel: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. This is a detective novel in which the detective asks who had the most to gain from associating Richard III with the murder of the princes in the tower? The answer is, at least according to those whom Tey read (although Alison Weir is among a group of popular and academic historians who contest some of Tey’s sources and arguments), Henry VII and his successors.

The confirmation of the discovery may reinvigorate Tey’s revision, or it may produce a new interpretation of a king whose reign seems to have been more substantial than the mere 26 months it spanned. Some recent books on this period and its questions include A Short History of the Wars of the Roses by Professor David Grummitt and Chris Skidmore’s Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close