Monday, 22 August 2016

Of Kings and Car Parks

On this date, 22nd August, in 1485 Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was 32. What can a Plantagenet Monarch who only reigned for two years have to do with children's fiction?

 The children of Edward IV of England by Pedro Américo
The Princes in the Tower Public Domain

He is a controversial figure - a nearly pantomime villain in the popular imagination. Most would think of him as a child-murderer whose tale inspired Shakespeare to write one of his most famous Tragedies.


Almost as grotesque as the Child Catcher - but real?
Yet he commanded great loyalty - especially in the North. At the news of his death, the City of York recorded the following opinion:

"'King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie'"
Not what you might expect about the death of a notorious tyrant.

York Council House Book entry for 23 August 1485, recording the city’s reaction to the news of Richard III’s death at the battle of Bosworth

For writers, I'd say it was a fine example of how the villain is also the hero in their own story (and in those tales not written by the winners). I admit to being somewhat biased: at a formative age I read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey.

It's an unusual detective novel - where the investigator is confined to bed and takes on the task of sorting out truth from character defamation on behalf of a long-dead king. It has one particular aspect in common with the finding of Richard's body under a Leicester car park in 2012. The whole trail starts from a gut reaction, a hunch - but then is pursued through facts and analysis.

Richard III, by an unknown artist. Inspector Grant finds it hard to believe this man's face is that of a killer in Josephine Tey's book.

  
  "the first time I stood in that car park, the strangest feeling just washed over me. I thought: 'I am standing on Richard's grave'." Philippa Langley, Scottish screenwriter and historian,

In case you didn't come across the astonishing story, modern science (through mitochondrial DNA) proved the body beneath the tarmac was Richard of Gloucester. The skeleton showed scoliosis (curvature of the spine) which is where we get the crouchback idea from. Further analysis showed his injuries matched the accounts from the time - and that he was a trained warrior. Indeed, he was the last King of England to go to war personally.

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,
Richard III, Act I, sc i
Even Shakespeare's portrayal shows him as brave. Sadly, his body was treated with great contempt and put in a too-small grave without even a shroud. What a contrast with  his dignified re-interment in Leicester Cathedral*.

Tomb of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral with his motto - 'loyalty binds me'


Some suggestions for your work

  • If you have an antagonist, how do they see themselves? Do others admire them? Have they redeeming features? Does their story follow the arc of a tragedy?
  • Might there be a surprising end for them - perhaps an epilogue where their tale is completed?
  • What if your Main Character has an intuitive feeling - which no-one is going to believe? How does she set about investigating the truth? Especially if it conflicts with 'what everyone knows'.
  • Might you have a character forced into immobility who goes on a mental quest to right a wrong?
  • What about a fighter who overcomes a dreadful condition beginning at adolescence and destined to get worse?

 *I still say it should've been York Minster
Title Picture credit 'Bosworth Oak' by Apionid

 By K. M. Lockwood


2 comments:

  1. A great post! I visited the King in the Car Park with my Richard III o'phile dad back in May this year. Had a grand time and as you suggest here, so many story possibilities...

    ReplyDelete
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