A history lesson, or: The 500-year-old case of a missing royal

I hadn’t realized until now that they never found King Richard III of England’s body after his gory death at the Battle of Bosworth Field — though it’s something I ought to have known, since I did know historians were fighting over just how deformed he was, a question that could be settled easily if we had his remains.

Well, it appears we have them now. Archaeologists found the skeleton of a man with a twisted spine and a nasty wound in the skull buried at a car park in Leicester, beneath the floor of a 500-year-old church:

[Archaeologists] Foxhall and Appleby point out that they have nothing but circumstantial evidence – but say it is “very, very strong circumstantial evidence”.

“We have a grown man, buried in a position of great honour near the altar in the church but without much in the way of ceremony, with a twisted spine and a terrible battle injury – he didn’t get that walking home drunk from the pub,” says Appleby.

The Telegraph has published a report, albeit unconfirmed, that DNA has proven the remains were Richard III’s and he will buried with the ceremony befitting a king, possibly at Leicester Cathedral. Though the official announcement hasn’t been made yet, if this guy ISN’T Richard I’d be very surprised.

This is a very exciting find for history buffs like me, comparable to when they found the bodies of the missing Anastasia and Alexei Romanov after 90 years. Except Richard’s been gone for a lot longer — since the 1400s.

I admit I don’t know an awful lot about the guy. I do know he’s a very controversial figure in English history. He was definitely a usurper and had his nephews, the rightful heirs to the throne, declared illegitimate and locked up in the Tower of London. Richard III was appointed their Lord Protector after the death of their father, but it seems he didn’t do a good job protecting them: the two boys, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, vanished mysteriously around 1483 and were presumed murdered. A lot of people believe it was on Richard’s orders. He certainly had a great deal to gain from their deaths, and I think it’s telling that when, in his lifetime, when people accused him of being a child murderer, he didn’t produce the Princes alive to prove them wrong. If he was truly innocent, that seems like the most logical thing he could have done.

But there’s no conclusive evidence one way or another. Royal pretenders kept popping up for quite some time, claiming to be one or the other of the missing boys. In the 1670s they found the bodies of two boys about the right age buried in the Tower, but I don’t think it was ever officially confirmed that they were the Princes.

Anyway, Richard III has been hated ever since and the image most people have of him is an evil, deformed hunchbacked man. His reign lasted only two years before he was killed in battle, his naked body slung on the back of a horse and carried ignominiously away. I’ve read that he was an able administrator and had other talents, and might have redeemed himself somewhat if his reign had been longer and given people a chance to forget about the whole Princes in the Tower thing. There are a couple of historical groups that are trying to rehabilitate his reputation. These societies argue, among other things, that the Princes in the Tower were probably killed by Richard’s successor, Henry VII (who married the Princes’ sister Elizabeth), or Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

Assuming he did killed the Princes (and I think he probably did), Richard III was hardly the first or the last person who would slaughter his way through the line of succession in order to assume the throne. Cleopatra, for example, had her half-sister Arsinoë murdered because she got in the way, and Arsinoë may have been as young as 15 at the time.

So, well, finding Richard III’s body is an archaeologist’s wet dream and it’s quite a Christmas present for me as well. Carry on.

When people shouldn’t mind their own business

Today I posted the disappearance of Jonathan Dorey, a British guy who was studying abroad at Virginia Commonwealth University when he disappeared in March. His case is viewed — with good reason — as a probable suicide. A person saw a man matching Dorey’s description “swimming” in a local river. In early March. On a rainy/snowy day when the temperature hovered around 30. And apparently this individual took no action, and all this didn’t come out until weeks after Dorey’s disappearance.

Kind of similar is the December 2008 disappearance of a recent college graduate, Wojciech Fudali. It’s not clear what ultimately happened to him, but after a party he apparently stripped down to his skin and walked out of a friend’s home into the cold. Some neighbors saw him nearby that morning. Two hours later some friends saw him running on the grounds of a bird sanctuary. Both times he was stark naked. Yet, as far as I can tell, no one so much as bothered to speak to him and ask what was going on.

If I saw a person swimming outdoors on an icy-cold day, I would probably call the police. If the person was from Siberia or something and just felt like some bracing exercise, fine, no harm done, but someone should at least check. If I saw a naked person standing around in public in any weather, I would DEFINITELY call the police. I mean, indecent exposure, anyone? Both of these young men are probably dead. And if someone had just taken five minutes out of their day to intervene in what was clearly a very strange if not life-threatening situation, both of these young men might still be alive/not missing now.

I’m all for not poking your nose in someone else’s business. But there are limits.