Shakespeare depicted him as the nastiest character ever to wear the English crown: duplicitous, deformed by a hunched back, suspected murderer of his own nephews, and so ugly that dogs barked madly wherever he sought rest.
But Richard III may have gotten a bum rap — some historians believe the last of the Plantagenet kings was an enlightened ruler for his day. He promoted impartial enforcement of the law, championed arts and education, and was indisputably a brave warrior.
That his ending was ignominious is beyond doubt: When he was killed in the 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, near Leicester, his skull was lopped off like the top of a boiled egg, his buttocks stabbed, and his naked corpse — after days of public revilement — consigned to an unmarked grave.
Nearly 530 years later, Richard III is finally getting a send-off befitting a king — his remains on Sunday were paraded solemnly through the streets of Leicester in a horse-drawn coffin while thousands of onlookers hurled white roses, symbol of his ancestral House of York. The last time Britain witnessed such a flowery show of public mourning, according to press reports, was when Princess Diana’s hearse was showered with white blossoms during her 1997 funeral procession in London.
The king, 32 years old at his death, was slain by the soldiers of Henry Tudor, founder of the succeeding Tudor Dynasty. The corpse lay forgotten until it was uncovered in 2012 in an archaeological dig sponsored, in part, by a private society intent on rehabilitating the monarch’s dastardly image. Archaeologists found the skeleton — with its cruelly curved spine — beneath a municipal parking lot in Leicester. DNA tests on Plantagenet descendants scientifically proved the bones to be those of Richard III.
King Richard’s remnants will be interred amid pomp and splendor Thursday in Leicester’s Anglican Cathedral.
The fanfare surrounding Richard III may seem somewhat dotty: Whether wicked or wise, His Late Majesty belongs to a very dim, distant age. But that only lends loveliness to the ceremonies as the British take pride in the longevity of their realm and its rich history.