History Matters: More Ricardian Rubbish

Grr! A silly garbled item in yesterday’s Telegraph – ‘King Richard III’s teeth and jaw reveal monarch’s anxious life and violent death’ – has got me hopping mad. According to Science Correspondent Richard Gray’s first sentence, ‘Researchers say the skull and jaw of last English monarch to die in battle were badly damaged, lending support to reports that the blows that killed him were so heavy that it drove the king’s crown into his head.’

Nuh-uh, Mr. Gray – actually, the skull damage disproves any such report. There are no signs of the crushing, blunt-force trauma consistent with heavy blows received through a steel helmet; on the contrary, the nature of the slicing and puncturing wounds he suffered clearly show that by this terminal stage of the Battle of Bosworth, King Richard must have been fighting unhelmed.

This could have come about in various ways. If, as some people believe, his horse stumbled in marshy ground and threw him, the jolt may have broken his chin-strap and thrown off the helmet (presumably with the crown attached). It may have been knocked off by a glancing blow from a weapon, or wrenched off by an assailant. Conceivably, King Richard may even have discarded it himself for the sake of better vision, especially if it was uncomfortably dented or damaged so that the visor no longer moved freely. (Any of these scenarios would fit with the tradition that the crown was later found in or under a tree and presented to the victorious Henry Tudor).

Whatever the reason, the clean blade cuts to the skull show that Richard was wearing neither helmet nor crown as he met his death. As for a ‘badly damaged jaw’, the only evidence I’ve seen for this, either on the recent Channel 4 documentaries or in mailings from Leicester University, is a single dagger cut – and the jawbone looks pretty intact on the photos. So this researcher says, ‘forget the image Gray conjures up – of Richard’s helmet bashed so hard that it crushed his skull and jaw – because the skeletal evidence proves it didn’t happen like that.’

But it’s the other thrust of his article that really had me- well, grinding my teeth. A London dentist, Dr. Amit Rai, believes that a loss of surface on some of Richard III’s teeth suggest that he suffered from bruxism (teeth-grinding). This leads ‘researchers’ to ‘conclude’ (presto suggesto!) that Shakespeare’s portrait was right. Richard III was anxious and fearful, grinding his teeth with stress – and why? Because he was ‘wracked with guilt over the fate of the Princes in the Tower’, natch – although Gray does concede that whether this is so ‘may never be clear.’

Piffle and tosh. There’s no ‘may’ about it. It WILL never be clear – wonderful though modern forensic archaeology may be, it can’t answer questions like that. And if Richard III was stressed-out, he had a lifetime of good reasons for it: at 7, being captured and taken into custody after the rout of Ludford Bridge, with his father attainted for treason; at 8, losing his father and elder brother at the Battle of Wakefield, and shortly afterwards being forced to flee the country for his own safety; at 17, sharing his brother Edward IV’s exile during Warwick’s rebellion and the re-adeption of Henry VI; fighting alongside Edward at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury; then years of high-pressure offices and military campaigning – all long before 1483 and any thought of taking his nephews’ crown, let alone their lives!

So perhaps King Richard did grind his teeth – but so what? It’s a very common complaint; most bruxism sufferers have never murdered anyone (I can personally vouch for that!); and I’m willing to bet plenty of murderers have never ground their teeth at all. Besides, there are other reasons for surface loss in medieval teeth – notably the contamination of cereal foods with abrasive particles from grindstones. And while I’m no dentist, I think Richard III’s teeth look in pretty good nick compared to some of the carie-ridden, calculus-caked examples from the Towton mass-grave assemblage; so, no disrespect to Dr. Rai, I’d rather trust an osteologist than a general dental practitioner to make pronouncements on this important 15th century mouth.

But the saddest thing is that now Richard Gray’s article has appeared in a quality newspaper, lots of intelligent people will believe that Richard III was that hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing Shakespearean caricature, and died through having his helmet and crown pounded into his skull. And what’s the betting the tabloids pick up on it? So, yet again, crap about Richard III enters the mainstream consciousness – gah. Excuse me, I’m going to spit.

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15 thoughts on “History Matters: More Ricardian Rubbish

  1. Here, here helen and so say all of us…… all of us that is that bother to research Richard and not just read spoutings from the ‘experts’. What does it take these days, to become an ‘expert’ – not a lot by all accounts.

  2. So you’re spitting Helen. For the record I’ve been spitting for months., How dare I cast doubt on Walpole’s historic doubts but if I have that’s no reason to send me hate mail..

    The Great Debate don’t make me laugh or as I term it la grande débacle now it’s turned into a point-scoring, stone-throwing, mud-slinging, no holds barred, no quarter given slanging match with a touch of the pantomime _ Oh yes he did – Oh no he didn’t,

    Believe it or not there are some of us who are neutral even it doesn’t appear so at first sight and consequently hold the moral high ground. Shall we take it from there?

    • This whole Richard debate has degenerated to such a level that people actually choose to misinterpret opposition statements and use disingenuous arguments (often created by out of context quotes).
      The above is a prime example of taking a basic fact – and using leaps of faith to embroider in into far more.
      He ground his teeth. That’s the entire story.
      In my experience the Ricardian side tend to use these leaps of faith more whilst defending Richard than traditionalists do when justifying their belief in his guilt.
      P M Kendal actually uses dialogue to describe his thoughts…! As if anyone, even his closest contemporary friends, could have know his thoughts?

      Richard could have been one of the great King’s of English history.
      Once he’d secured the throne he really did try to improve the lives of English people.
      Sadly he knew that to allow Edward and Richard to remain alive would have been a constant and perpetual destabilising issue, one that would have resulted in his own death the very first time the Woodvilles managed to regain power, through their puppet King child relatives. Richard had no choice to have them killed. For the sake of himself, the institution of monarchy and the nation. It’s a terribly sad situation that he found himself in. He had a tiger by the tail….
      No adult could seriously accept the truth of Titulus Regius. The sheer convenience of it shatters any potential credulity.
      But his reasons for orchestrating the usurpation, the cover story, the show trials, the summary execution and the infanticide/regicide of his nephews were absolutely inescapable and pure.

      • The ethnic origin of the dentist is completely irrelevant – I would simply have been more convinced by a report from a specialist in English medieval dentition. The article annoyed me primarily because it was yet another example of evidence being over-interpreted in the press to sensationalise a story/feed into preconceptions (or misconceptions) about Richard III. (I also greatly dislike aspects of PMK’s writing – over-emotional guff!)

  3. Great article – but can only disagree with the assertion that the Telegraph is a qualitynewspaper

  4. 1. You say “A London dentist, Dr. Amit Rai, believes that a loss of surface on some of Richard III’s teeth suggest that he suffered from bruxism (teeth-grinding)”. This is incorrect, he did not say this. In the article he actually says “The cause of this could be attrition due to stress-related bruxism or, more likely, dietary abrasion and erosion”.
    2. You say that you think “Richard III’s teeth look in pretty good nick” implying that the author has said the opposite. You might like to know (again from the article that you had clearly not read before writing this rant) that it states Richard III had “insight with dental hygiene”.
    So “no disrespect” but you clearly don’t know what you are talking about and despite referring to Richard Grey’s piece as a “silly garbled item” you have used this to base your uninformed opinions as opposed to the original report in the British Dental Journal. In fact the author made no such “pronouncements on this important 15th century mouth”. Granted that the Telegraph’s journalist didn’t do his career any justice with his article but how are you any better if you misquote research?

    • in the article i was criticising (richard gray’s telegraph piece), it says precisely that: ‘surface loss on a number of back teeth and upper right teeth suggest he also suffered from stress-related bruxism, or teeth grinding’. the sentence appears below one starting ‘dr. rai said’, but is not given in quotation marks or directly attributed to dr. rai. the condition of richard iii’s teeth is relatively good compared to other medieval examples i’ve seen (as a former archaeologist) – which is why i think it’s important that they’re looked at by a specialist experienced with teeth from archaeological contexts, rather than just by a modern dentist. and i’m not criticising dr. rai’s original article – i’m reacting to a newspaper item i find confusing and misleading.

  5. Hi Helen

    Here’s my response
    Here’s No 1

    That Perkin, never being confronted with the queen dowager, and the princesses her daughters, proves that Henry did not dare to trust to their acknowledging him.

    The sad fact is that by the time Henry VII got his hands on Perkin Warbeck the queen dowager had been dead and buried for at least 5 years.so how would such a confrontation have been possible?

    No.2
    That it was morally impossible for the duchess of Burgundy at the distance of twenty-seven years to instruct a Flemish lad so perfectly in all that had passed in the court of England, that he would not have been detected in a few hours.

    Unfortunately for Walpole Margaret did return home in the summer of 1480 with not ample opportunity to learn about what passed in the court of England but to meet her nephew Richard of Shrewsbury but alas no opportunity to meet his elder brother Edward V who was still up in Ludlow at the time. That’s why it had to be Richard IV.

    As for this pathetic story that the younger brother was allowed to escape don’t make me laugh. As any hitman knows if they botch up on a job they’re the next on the hit-list.added to which hitmen are not that merciful.. – they wouldn t be undertaking that job in the first place if they were As it is if Perkin was the genuine article why he did to choose to go the court of Charles VIII of France first?

    No 3
    That Buck would not have dared to quote her (EOY) letter as extant in the earl of Arundel’s library, if it had not been there: that others of Buck’s assertions having been corroborated by subsequent discoveries, leave no doubt of his veracity on this; and that that letter disculpates Richard from poisoning his wife; and only shews the impatience of his niece to be queen.

    So here’s the counter argument based on logical and joined-up thinking which Walpole so seemed to lack. First that letter if it ever existed was political dynamite so why didn’t the Howards during the course of their first 140 chequered history make use of it when they were at a stand? Secondly are we really to believe that Sir Francis Walsingham both thorough and ruthless spy-master general somehow seemed to miss it when the 4th Duke of Norfolk was arrested for treason in 1572? As for Buck wait until I dish out the dirt out on him. Seems it wasn’t only Walpole who suffered/suffers from a lack of logical and joined-up thinking.

    Last but not least what were a) Walpole’s and b ) Buck’s motives for trying to rehabilitate Richard III? Not what I would call bona-fide

  6. I’m assuming that the author is a Ricardian? While I’ll concede that the article is rubbish, as even if there is proof that Richard III ground his teeth, he wasn’t necessarily a murderer of his nephews. Duh. That’s a pretty stupid thing for them to have said.
    BUT…. I will also agree with an earlier post that said that Ricardians are the ones that go to ridiculously, insanely…. CRAZY lengths to preserve this idea that Richard III was a complete and utter saint. Not only is he innocent of the charge of murdering his 2 nephews, he never spilled a drop of innocent blood, and he was staunchly loyal to Edward III (How one is able to maintain that story and square it with him usurping the throne from Edward’s son… I will never know, my mind doesn’t think in ways Ricardians’ apparently do), he was the best king who ever lived and he did SO MUCH GOOD FOR ENGLAND. He was much beloved in the North of England, he was such a beloved and brave warrior and man… etc etc etc. He was a complete and utter saint.

    Well the problem with this view is that… Listen. Richard III was not a completely evil man. NO ONE IS. Even Adolph Hitler wasn’t a completely evil man. He was a vegetarian who loved animals. NO one is a completely evil OR good person. Everyone has shades of gray. Good and bad. We are all good and bad. Richard was a good man, and he was a bad man. He was very much a man of his times. Did he kill the princes in the tower? YES. For God’s sake yes. Don’t give me the tired line of “Oh, it was Margaret Beaufort!” or “It was the Duke of Buckingham!” or (my personal favorite as it’s the most ridiculous) “It was Henry VII himself!” (how Henry killed the 2 boys from an ocean away I’ll never know, as it’s a generally accepted fact that the princes were dead in 1483 and Henry Tudor, far from being king at that point, and who in all reality had a snowball’s chance in HELL of ever becoming king was in France.) When the princes disappeared, it was widely spoken of, and rumors went around that Richard had them killed. His reputation suffered to such a degree that it was complete and sheer stupidity for him not to have shown the princes as alive and well… UNLESS… He couldn’t! Why? Because he had them killed. They were dead. If they were alive, he was an idiot, because failing to show the people of their continuing life was causing his very rule to come under fire. Deny all you want, but Richard had motive, means, opportunity. He was the ONLY one with all 3. Henry had plenty of motives, but in 1483, when the murders took place, he had a pretty airtight alibi. (not as if he could have taken a flight across the channel or anything. No concord back then.)
    Duke of Buckingham wasn’t in the right place at the right time, and had no access to the princes (Richard III would have had to at least be complicit in helping the Duke carry out said murder, which of course, would make both of them involved in said murder; making Richard guilty.)
    I won’t go into it further. Is there enough proof to convict? After 500+ years, of course not. But is Richard III guilty? Any logical thinking person would conclude YES. He was guilty. Does this mean you have to hate Richard and say he was a completely bad guy? NO. He did a lot of good things, maybe he was even an overall good guy. But let’s get real. The guy was no saint. Even saints aren’t REALLY perfect, you know. NO ONE Is perfect. Not even Richard III.

    • I certainly am a Ricardian, Charlotte – but I don’t believe Richard III was a saint, and I’m open to persuasion on the issues of his usurpation and level of involvement in the disappearance/death of his nephews. I do believe that he was staunchly loyal to Edward IV in life – but that after Edward’s death, all bets were off and that Richard’s primary loyalty transferred to his House and his own family and future. My irritation with the article was the implication that Richard III ground his teeth due to the stress of nephew-murder – a quite ridiculous statement that goes way beyond what the skeletal evidence can prove.

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