Ruling class: The rehabilitation of Richard III


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The Independent Online

In the end, Shakespeare probably did Richard III a big favour in his sensationalist account of the last Plantagenet’s life, times and infanticide.

From Laurence Olivier through Ian McKellen to Martin Freeman, great actors – and their audiences – have relished the king’s entertaining villainy.

Had Richard not been so characterised, the discovery of his remains 530 years after his death would have resulted in a relatively obscure burial, with no great cathedrals scrapping over his bones, or newspaper headlines about this “evil” monarch. Instead, we had the impressive sight of Richard’s hearse travelling through Leicestershire yesterday, passing locations associated with the monarch, ahead of his reburial in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday. Nothing comparable would have happened in the event of the discovery of the long lost bones of, say, Henry I somewhere around Reading, or of King Stephen under the sod in Kent.

There is now a certain amount of affection for this complex historical personality. No one knows what, if any, were his mortal sins, and it is time for him to be left in peace to begin his new career as a minor tourist attraction.