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EDITORIAL: A bad rap on Richard III

Washington’s spin doctors could learn a lot from the Bard

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Richard III's bones turned up under a parking lot in the English Midlands city of Leceister, but the dust is hardly settled. Yes, say the archaeologists and pathologists, he did not die on a horse, affirming Shakespeare's version of the king's plaintive cry, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"

Yes, he was 5-foot-8 -- short for our time, but not for his -- and his spine curved from scoliosis, but he was not a hunchback. Aye, here's the rub: While intrepid modern science can match recovered DNA with that of a Canadian descendant of Richard's sister, Anne of York, proving that the 528-year-old bones are those of the last Plantagenet king, science cannot prove that Richard, who was 32 when he died, was the monster Shakespeare told us he was.

Some facts are indisputable. Richard did snatch the British crown from his brother's 12-year-old son. He was accused of killing two nephews in the Tower of London to prevent them from claiming the crown, but we can't be sure he did the deed. The loss of the Battle at Bosworth Field (and of most of his head, as the skull reveals) that brought Henry Tudor to power and so ended the Plantagenet grip on the monarchy is a matter of historical record.

So whom do we believe? Shakespeare and the Tudors, or the Richard III Society, which insists the king had many good qualities? The portrait of Richard recently put forward by the society endows the monarch with a round, rosy-cheeked and nearly cherubic face. This is not the Richard we've seen before, all angular and scowling and quite at home with the "naked villainy" Shakespeare conferred upon him.

Even if we were able to pick a side about the range of his nastiness, the arguments don't stop there. The city of Leicester is fighting with the city of York over where he should be buried, and whether he should be buried as a Catholic, his chosen faith at death, or with the Anglican rites of the Church of England. The discovery of his bones offers titillating details: He was killed by a blow of a battle ax and stabbed in his buttocks after death. He, like kings everywhere, enjoyed the high protein diet of steaks and chops most of his subjects never saw.

If the Richard we thought we knew is exonerated, what does that tell us about the Bard, who drew him in such dark and bloody colors? For starters, it tells us that the spin doctors of Washington have a lot to learn from the master.

The Washington Times

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