Could it be Richard III?

Because of the news from the archeological dig in Leicester I couldn’t let today past with out a blog about my favourite Plantagenet.

I first became aware of Richard III after reading a book called the Maligned King by Annette Carson. I don’t often read history books for fun, even though I am a bit of a geek, but this novel really caught me. I remember feeling excited and outraged in equal measure by the claims made by Carson. I even found myself hesitating to end the book, because I already knew all about the battle of Bosworth and the only way was tragedy. Having found this book interesting, I read a few others about Richard III, including one I’ve yet to finish (The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman – for the same reason – it’s all about to go to pot for him).

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

Full of verve, I began to attempt to write a few short stories/plays portraying his last days. I found it a little disheartening therefore, to find out a well known actor (a Mr Richard Armitage) and screenwriter (who is also involved in the archeological dig) have teamed up to write just such a play.

On the other hand, I am incredibly excited  I’ll be able to finally watch a play/film about Richard III portraying him more accurately; as a proven soldier, an intelligent man with a mind for law and progress, a loving husband and father, a trusted Lord. Also of course, as a brutal, pragmatic, pious King, living in a time where life was short and bloody.  How they will play the missing princes card will be intriguing to see.

The difficultly of trying to bring the past to life in the present, is to find ways to get the audience to understand the mindset of Englishmen living in a world that seems alien to us now – without it becoming a history lesson. Peoples morals and beliefs were so different then; what would seem barbaric or laughable to us now, would be see as fair, just and sensible back then.

Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood

Having only come to love all things Richard III in the last few years, it seems serendipitous that Leicester University decided to begin the search for his remains. When they began the dig I held out little hope anything would be found beyond a bit of pottery and a pin, but today, what a find!

An intact skeleton, found within the fallen walls of Grey Friars church. An adult male, with a clear wound to the back of the head consistent with a sharp blade, and an arrowhead in the spine. Not to mention a distinct twist in the spine (scoliosis) which would have made one shoulder slightly higher than the other. Not – I repeat Not evidence of a hunchback. (Let’s face it Shakespeare really took that idea and ran with it.)Of course there’s DNA testing to be done and who knows if that will reveal this really is Richard III, I do hope so. (And I do hope they’ve got that play written, would be a great bit of timing…. )

Here’s more info about the dig: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-19561018 and article from the New Scientist.

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Searching for inspiration 3 – in unlikely places

English: Battle of Bosworth Field

English: Battle of Bosworth Field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anyone who’s read my previous posts will know, I’ve been trying to develop my battle writing skills (we’re talking swords, bows & pitchforks here…) I’ve got a whole list of books visitors to my blog have very kindly suggested – most of them yet to be read and I also rediscovered Shakespeare’s Henry V (and intend to read through more of the great man’s work for other nuggets).

In my quest for inspiration (and because I am a Richard III fan) I visited the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment near Sutton Cheney recently. I was hoping to really feel the spirit of the late medieval era flood through, and I did get glimpses of it. I watched armour clad men clinging to their horses, the arcing flight of many arrows being released at once, horse-riders charging a quintain (which unfortunately was never in any danger of unseating riders….health and safety you know). There were blacksmiths making armour which added clinking hammers and smoke from the fires to the mix and proper canon fire; given their small size they made an impressive amount of noise. So, I suppose I did glean something from it, but the problem with such re-enactments is you already know the outcome, so there goes any tension. The crowd seemed particularly lacklustre in supporting either side – and I think that wasn’t because they didn’t appreciate the effort of fighting on such a hot day and (for some at least) the fighting skills on display, it was just they knew what would happen. Poor Richard would cop it again. Perhaps for just one year they could let him win? – I imagine that would cause proper civil war in the re-enactment camp! Also there was no blood (I’m not braying for real blood but let’s have some ketchup or red hankies!) no one even hit the deck.

I’m willing to admit however, it’s possible my inability to really get much writing fodder out of the day, might have been down to my self-conscious feeling at the contrivance of it all.

So, I went somewhere I thought perfect for inspiration and didn’t quite find it, yet two places I have visited recently provided some quite unexpectedly.

The first was a recent (and my first for many, many years) camping trip. It just so happened, unbeknownst to us, a bikers convention linked to the British army, was taking place in the field we’d booked to camp in. Within a few minutes of unpacking our tents, the field was full of big, hairy bikers. I must stress me and my sister were doing very well putting our massive nine man tent up (I need my space!) but the bikers were so eager to help, we felt it would be rude to refuse them.

Over the weekend we witnessed – and were a part of  – the camaraderie between this band of (mainly) men. And at night? Well we had the wonderful experience of listening to the late night drunken banter, followed by a cacophony of snoring the like of which I have never experienced. Added to this, (as I cannot sleep on air beds) I went old-style and slept on a thin mat on the floor. When I awoke the next morning – after greatly interrupted sleep, hungry, thirsty and sore, it struck me – soldiers on a campaign would wake for a dawn battle in much the same state . The idea of doing anything even slightly physical on that little sleep was an awful thought. I would really have to love my King big time.

The second was my visit to the Reading festival. I had a great day sitting with a load of friends in hot field, listening to some great bands and people-watching. Again there was the atmosphere you only get when you put that many people in a field together – every group with their own territory, but generally very friendly and happy to help each other out. There were the eccentrics and the wonderfully childish characters – Men dressed as Umpa Lumpas, mario brothers, teletubbies, gimps to name just a few. There was the stench of the campsite – a truly sickly sweet odour and the carnage that is the porta-loos (toilets).

None of this has much to do with actual battle – except if you count the idiotic ‘mosh pits’. I was standing on the less populated section of a dense crowd, yet one started right next to me. It’s surprising how quickly the adrenalin and aggressive traits manifest. I found myself utterly determined to stand my ground and  found myself tripping, pushing (and I shamefully admit, punching) the sweaty men back into their pit of pointless violence. I finally came to my senses, having locked eyes with my sister looking just as abnormally aggressive on the other sit of the ‘pit’ and retreated to a safer distance. But there it is, the stupid fights humans will have over almost nothing – and for fun.

Would love to hear about any inspiration that has struck you in unlikely places?