Richard III, Roland Greene, and the lineaments of kingship

Share

KQED host

The world will be talking about Richard III for awhile – and so was Michael Krasny yesterday on his radio program “Forum.”  You can hear the whole thing on San Francisco’s KQED here.

He was joined by Stanford’s Roland Greene, a professor of English and comparative literature and Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist from UC-Berkeley.

Joyce pointed out the sheer improbability of it all:  the tiny plot of land being explored had a small probability of being the vanished Greyfriars priory – the fact that the researchers found the Franciscan monastery, which had been destroyed by Henry VIII, alone would have been a significant achievement.  When the University of Leicester set out its goals, “the least likely was being able to recover and identify the remains of Richard III,” she said.  “With ground-penetrating radar, they were able to find the images that suggested where the walls were.”  Then the grand slam: the scientists found the remains of Richard III “on the first day, the first hour.”

The English prof

A few snippets from the conversation with Roland:

MK:  What can we learn now that we have his skeleton intact?

RG: I think it’s a commemoration and an affective event more than a historical event.  In the sense, commemorative, because it takes us back to that moment in 1485 that’s really the end of Middle Ages in England beginning of Renaissance.  Affective because feel for that mortal body that’s under a parking lot.

MK:  Mortal, but regal, too.  There’s a difference between those two bodies, isn’t there?

RG:  As you know, in the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance there was a doctrine of  the king’s two bodies – which conceptualizes the difference between physical body, which gets sick and gets old, and the regal body, the body politic, that is the body in which the kingship resides. Any time you see the mortal body of a king, whether dead or alive – and you could say the same about the present day Queen of England – one is always struck by the mortal aspect and the frailty of a physical body.  At some time, people always want to look for the  lineaments of kingship in such a body.  …

The anthropologist

MK:  There’s still a lot of facts we don’t know …  there were a lot of things he did – innocent until proven guilty, bail as we know it today, helping the poor, easing book publishing – he made some real contributions.”

RG:   He was a very complex figure for that time. The difficulty of sorting out his historical veracity from the legend is that it’s clouded by Thomas More and Shakespeare, who wrote very powerful propaganda that gets between us and the historical reality. He only reigned for a couple of years.

Bare ruinèd choirs … post-dissolution Glastonbury Abbey

What will we learn?  According to Joyce, the bones have “already begun to tell us things we didn’t know. He  ate so much marine fish that radiocarbon was affected.  His diet was high in meat and fish.  Also, the kind of scoliosis we now know he had would have started when he was about ten, and was progressive.”

That finding alone has somewhat demystified the Richard III legend already, said Roland.  “There’s something very prosaic in what amounts to scoliosis in real life.  It reminds you of the imaginative distance spun by More and Shakespeare.”  In an earlier era where disfiguring disease could be seen as a curse, however, “his physical suffering may have made people look askance at him in his lifetime.”


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply