February 1, 2013

Here Lies Richard III?

The BBC and other media report that Richard III's bones seem to have been discovered, six centuries after he died after the battle at Bosworth Field that cost him his throne and brought Henry Tudor to power in England. According to scientists at Leicester University, DNA studies are being run on the bones and on descendants of Richard's sister Anne to determine if the bones might indeed be those of the last Plantagenet king of England. The appropriately named Dr. Turi King explains that DNA from females is important to use in such tests because, "after death, the usual mechanisms which keep our DNA molecules long and healthy when we’re alive are no longer working and our DNA begins to break down. While there is only one copy of our genomic DNA in each of our cells, there are many, many copies of our mitochondrial DNA; so if anything is going to be left, it will be mtDNA....The other reason that mitochondrial DNA is so useful in this case is that it’s passed down the female line, from mothers to children (but only daughters pass it on)[.]”

Because he died on the battlefield and his body was lost, Richard was never buried honorably in a king's grave. Many literary works, including Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III, which influenced Shakespeare in writing his Richard III, vilified him, because during the King's reign his young nephews Edward and Richard, the sons of Edward IV, disappeared. For a different view of Richard, see Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time (1951), in which the detective Alan Grant attempts to reconstruct the mystery of the princes' disappearance and determines that Richard is innocent. See also attorney Bertram Fields's Royal Blood: Richard III and the Mystery of the Princes (Harper/Collins, 1998); Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third, (W. W. Norton, 1956); A. J. Pollard's Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, (St. Martin's Press, 1991), Charles Ross's Richard III, (Methuen, 1981), and Desmond Seward's Richard III: England's Black Legend (Penguin Books, 1997).   Of the filmed interpretations of Shakespeare's play, I particularly like Ian McKellan's 1995 version, with Annette Bening as Elizabeth Woodville, Kristin Scott Thomas as Anne Neville, Maggie Thomas as the Queen Mother, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Lord Rivers.

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