The Wars of the Roses ended at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, bringing England’s Plantaganet dynasty to a violent close and elevating the Tudors to the English throne. But the battle over the legacy of Richard III — the English king killed that day — still rages. The confirmation this week that a misshapen skeleton discovered beneath a parking lot in the city of Leicester was that of the last Plantaganet king is a dramatic reminder that history’s judgment is rarely final.
Richard’s reputation as the most reviled monarch in England’s history owes much to William Shakespeare, who portrayed the king as a ruthless villain with a character as twisted as his spine. “That bottled spider, that foul bunchback’d toad,” he is called in Shakespeare’s narrative, which drew heavily on propaganda meant to paint Richard as a usurper to the throne, and the Tudors as England’s legitimate rulers.