The truth, the truth! My kingdom for the truth!

Richard III
Richard III

Last month news story headlines all over the world confirmed that bones exhumed from under a parking lot in Leicester, England, are those of Richard III, King of England from 1483–1485. Last of the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England since 1154, Richard was killed—the last English king to die in battle—fighting the forces of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII and the founder of the Tudor ruling line.

So what? This was over 500 years ago. Besides, Richard III was a bad king and a worse human being. Now if it was King Arthur’s bones that had been discovered… But actually, Richard III—or more accurately, the image most people have of Richard—is surprisingly relevant to our time. We think of political spin as something from modern times, but in reality, it’s been going on for centuries.

Thanks primarily  to William Shakespeare, Richard is best known as one of history’s great villains, responsible for (at least) usurping the throne, murdering his two nephews, having lustful designs on his own niece, and committing other random murders along the way. He also was hunchbacked, limped, and had a withered arm and squinty eyes.

PluckingEDIT
William Shakespeare’s version of the splitting of nobles into the factions of York and Lancaster, sparking the Wars of the Roses in 15th-century England.
Artist: Henry Arthur Payne (1868–1940).
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The problem with the popular notion of Richard is that much, if not most to all of it, is untrue. In the time period Shakespeare was writing, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I, was on the English throne. Shakespeare would have certainly been aware that pleasing the monarch was the best way to success (including keeping one’s head attached to one’s shoulders), so he would have been extremely unlikely to write anything positive about the man Elizabeth’s grandfather had killed. The sources that Shakespeare drew upon in writing Richard III were similarly biased. John Rous, a chronicler writing  during Richard’s reign, lauded Richard as a good king with a good heart, who stood up for the common man. But after Richard’s death and the ascension of Henry VII, Rous described Richard as physically deformed and born with teeth and shoulder-length hair after spending two years in the womb. Other chroniclers took that description and ran with it…but in the process Richard’s supposedly withered arm moved from his right to his left. Oops. And portraits of Richard have, upon examination, revealed evidence of repainting to add uneven shoulders and squinty eyes. Double oops.

Similarly, most supposed murders by Richard took place during the reign of Richard’s older brother, Edward IV, and there is no evidence linking Richard with either planning or executing them. The two that did occur during Richard’s reign were both cases of treason, which was punishable by death. The only uncertain case is central to the idea of Richard as villain, though—the murders of his young nephews, commonly known as the Princes in the Tower, and one of the most famous unsolved historical mysteries.

Princes in the Tower
“The Princes in the Tower”
Artist: John Everett Millais (1829-1896)
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

The popular image of the princes is two young boys, one an anointed king, imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London and later secretly killed, either by Richard himself or on his orders, to preserve his usurpation of the English throne. The reality is much more complicated and involves a secret marriage, a possible secret betrothal, possible illegitimacy, power-hungry courtiers, and bitter divisions between the two major “parties” of the time. Briefly, Edward IV, from the Yorkist branch of the royal family, secretly married a woman named Elizabeth Woodville, whose family members were placed in positions of power in any way possible, causing major resentment of the entire Woodville family. After Edward IV’s death in April 1483, the former chancellor for Edward, a bishop of the Church, came forward and claimed that Edward had been betrothed to another woman before marrying Elizabeth. In those days a betrothal, or plight-troth, was as binding as a marriage; thus, Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth was invalid and all of their children, including the two princes, were illegitimate. Consequently, as Edward’s younger brother, Richard was the closest legitimate heir to the throne.

Before the bishop’s revelation, Edward’s older son, also named Edward, had gone to  the Tower of London, which at that time was not only a prison, but contained living quarters. (Traditionally, heirs to the throne lived there before their coronations.) Elizabeth Woodville soon allowed Edward’s younger brother to join him. The boys were seen playing outside during the summer of 1483, but by late fall rumors were circulating that the boys were dead. The only certainty is that they were not seen alive after the summer of 1483.

There are others suspected of murdering the princes. Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, had initially supported Richard against the Woodville family, but less than six months later led a rebellion against Richard. Henry Stafford was related to the Yorkist royal family and potentially had his eye on the throne, and removing any potential claimants to the throne, even illegitimate sons, would have been in his interest. Henry Tudor was distantly related to the rival branch of the royal family, the Lancastrians, but his claim was tainted for two reasons: it was through a female line of descent, and it was through illegitimacy. Because of these reasons, Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was very tenuous, and he would have had even stronger reasons for wanting rival claimants to the crown removed.

Richard nearly defeated Henry Tuor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in August 1485. Henry was saved only by the treachery of one of Richard’s supporters, who turned his army against Richard’s during the battle, and by multiple fighters of Henry’s own household, who brought Richard down after Richard’s single-minded charge across the battlefield almost reached Henry himself, coming so close as to kill Henry’s standard-bearer. Henry’s troops hacked and defiled Richard’s body, which was then buried with no ceremony in the grounds of Greyfriars’ Church in nearby Leicester. During the Dissolution under Henry’s son, Henry VIII, the church was destroyed. For a long time it was thought that Richard’s body had been disinterred and thrown into the River Soar.

In the end, history was written by the winner. Henry Tudor became Henry VII, married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, and subsumed all claims to the English throne into his own family. Under the rule of Henry VII and Henry VIII, most of the male members of the House of York were executed, removing any possibility that a York might claim the throne. Chroniclers of the era painted Richard with the blackest of brushes to further delegitimize the House of York and appeal to the Tudor family. These are the sources upon which Shakespeare drew to write Richard III, and these are what have shaped Richard’s reputation over the last five centuries. Five centuries from now, what sources will historians of that time be using to write the history of today—and how truthful will they be?

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If you’re interested in reading more about Richard III, Milne Library has some great resources! Check GLOCAT Classic for copies of Shakespeare’s Richard III, both in print and in video form, as well as a wide range of sources about the history of late 15th-century England and Richard’s reign, by searching for “Richard III” OR “Richard the Third.” (Be sure to use the quotation marks to ensure that the search engine looks for “Richard” and “III” or “the Third” together as a phrase!) And while two excellent historical novels about Richard III aren’t part of the library’s holdings, you can use interlibrary loan through IDS (available from the library’s homepage under the tab labeled “Requests and Services”) to find copies of Sharon Kay Penman’s thoroughly researched The Sunne in Splendour and Elizabeth Peters’ lighthearted yet historically accurate mystery novel The Murders of Richard III. RichardSunneFor information on the discovery and retrieval of Richard’s bones, and the ongoing argument as to where the skeleton will be interred, Lexis-Nexis (on the library’s homepage under “Popular Resources”) is the place to go for newspaper, magazine, and other current media stories from around the world. Searching on “Richard III” retrieves almost 1,000 stories; “Richard the Third” as a search term is less focused, mixing in stories about rugby players and such, but still retrieving some interesting stories. And for a look at the scholarly literature, Historical Abstracts, which can be found by using the “Find a resource by title” search box below “Popular Resources” on the library’s homepage, produces over 100 results, including articles on Richard himself, Shakespeare’s play, and the sources he drew on, especially Thomas More’s account of Richard’s life.

 

What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for April

2013.AprSR
Here’s what some of Milne’s Staff is reading!

Are you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose?  Milne Library staff  have selected a few choice ones to highlight for the month of April.

If you are a fan of more traditional fantasy fare, Reference & Instruction Librarian Sherry Rhodes recommends the The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix:

Last summer my teenaged daughter picked up a book called Sabriel from her favorite bookstore. I took a look at the back cover and found the description to be interesting, and decided to read it. I sure am glad I did!

I really enjoy fantasy, but it’s got to be well done. Too much of what is published as fantasy are ill-disguised reworkings of previously published books. Sabriel, and its two sequels, Lirael  and Abhorsen, are set in a completely unique world, with completely unique characters and plots.

sabrielSabriel is finishing school when her father, known as The Abhorsen and a gifted necromancer, goes missing. She journeys home, to the Old Kingdom, where magic is alive and well—and the dead are alive as well. With the help—and hindrance—of a cat who is not just a cat, and a long-imprisoned mage she rescues, Sabriel uses the skills her father has taught her to journey into Death to attempt to rescue him, and in the process battle the forces of evil necromancers determined to escape Death and return to the land of the living.

liraelLirael, on the other hand, has spent her entire life in the Old Kingdom. She is a daughter of the Clayr, women who have the ability to see the future. Fourteen when the book begins, Lirael is painfully aware that she is the only Clayr who has not received the Sight by her age. She also has no family, with the exception of the aunt who runs the Clayr settlement and who has little time for her. Feeling alienated from her surroundings, Lirael seeks isolation in the enormous library and is apprenticed as a Third Assistant Librarian. Over the months she works there, her curiosity enables her to learn how to battle hideous creatures lurking in the library’s depths, as well as how to construct a magical dog who becomes her loyal companion. Events reveal that Lirael’s destiny is not confined to the home of the Clayr, and actually is closely intertwined with the ruling family of the Old Kingdom. The end of the book leaves readers with few answers, setting up the plot for Abhorsen and the convergence of the main characters from the previous books and the resolution of the various plotlines.

abhorsen

I especially enjoyed the character development present in all three novels. Sabriel, Lirael, Sameth, and Nick are all believable teens, growing more mature and confident in themselves as the books progress and they age. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget the Cat exhibit typical characteristics of their respective species, but are far more than just a dog and a cat. Their often humorous and sometimes caustic interchanges reveal more about the Old Kingdom and Charter Magic—and conceal far more. Nick and the other ordinary humans live in a kingdom reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, flavored with a strong strain of Victorian/Edwardian steampunk. And Nix’s descriptions of the various levels of death, its denizens, and the dangers that are encountered there by the living are creepy and nerve-wracking.
If you’re looking for a really original fantasy series with appealing characters, Garth Nix’s The Abhorsen Trilogy is one to read.
Another favorite set of fantasy books is the comic fantasy series of  Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, highly recommended by Electronic Resources & Digital Scholarship Joe Easterly:
fforde booksThe Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde are wonderful British novels which blend comic fantasy, detective fiction and literary wit. Set in a parallel universe where classic literature is revered above all, and criminal masterminds steal manuscripts and murder literary characters, literary detective Thursday Next is part of a specialized police force charged with protecting Britain’s literary heritage. As this fast-paced, endlessly imaginative series progresses, Thursday moves from one unusual situation to the next, such as running anger management classes for the cast of Wuthering Heights, to standing trial (set in Kafka’s book, of course) for changing the ending of Jane Eyre, and encountering fan-fiction versions of herself and Harry Potter. Start reading the series with the first book — The Eyre Affair. However, the third (The Well of Lost Plots) and the fifth (First Among Sequels) books are particularly good as well.
How about contemporary fiction?  Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends the recent publication of the novel, The Dinner, by Dutch writer Herman Koch and translated into English by Sam Garrett:
The Dinner is a contemporary book, set in present-day Amsterdam, although a specific day and time is never mentioned in the course of the novel’s events. The setting is dinner at an upscale restaurant in the heart of urban Amsterdam. Dinner is also the framework of the novel; chapters are nestled within sections of the book indicating which course is being served (“Aperitif” being the first, followed by “Appetizer” and so on ).
kochOur main characters are two couples, brothers and their wives. Narrated  by one brother, Paul, the other brother is Serge Lohman, an up-and-coming Dutch politician. The reader soon learns of the presumable reason the couples are meeting for their dinner – a horrible crime committed by the two brothers’ children. At the same time, we figure out Paul is an unreliable narrator; as the story moves on, not only do we learn more details of the sons’ horrible crime, but also the reason why Paul has lost his job as a history teacher. The reader is also continually struck by Paul’s anger and bitterness towards his brother, his sister-in-law Babette and their adopted son. As the novel progresses, the dinner itself feels surreal, the couples dancing around the decisions that must be made about their children and the impact it will have, not only on Serge’s career, but on all their lives.
A bestseller in his native Netherlands, The Dinner is an uncomfortable and disturbing story of how far people are willing to go to protect their family. It has surprises, and although the children’s’ crime is unforgivably brutal, it isn’t their crime that is the most horrible, but rather their parents’ reaction and response to it which moves this novel in so tragic a direction.  As The New York Times stated in its book review, the author  “…[he] has created a clever, dark confection, like some elegant dessert fashioned out of entrails. “The Dinner,” absorbing and highly readable, proves in the end strangely shallow, and this may be the most unsettling thing about it..”
Recommended and hard to put down, so save the reading for a day when you have a few hours to absorb yourself completely.

Have you read any good books lately? Are you willing to share a review? Let us know – submit your review to Kate Pitcher at [email protected] for a future post.

Research Help @Milne

Librarian Sherry Rhodes, helping out a student in our new Research Consultation space in the Center for Academic Excellence

Are you taking advantage of one of Milne Library’s best kept secrets?  The Reference (or Research) Librarians at SUNY Geneseo frequently hear from their professorial partners, as well as campus tour guides, that we are a gem to be discovered and utilized heavily.  They compare (and praise) our level of service to that of past experiences they have had at other (many times, distinguished) universities.  But don’t take your professors’ word for it!   See just what your classmates and peers have to say.

Sparked by Fall 2011 observations of students in need of research help at the Service Desk and Reference Desk, Anna Wilson, a recently graduated Spanish major with a minor in Latin American Studies, interviewed and filmed fellow students regarding their awareness and experience with Milne Library’s Research Librarians.  In anticipation of her participant observation study, she wrote,”I predict that many of the students in the library are as in the dark about what goes on at the reference desk as I was until this (Fall 2011) semester.”

Does this statement represent your awareness about who the Reference Librarians are and what we can help you with?  If so, be sure to watch Anna’s video and then come see us when you are in need of research help!

Librarian Kim Hoffman works on searching with a student.

Reference Librarians are on duty for nearly all hours that the library is open with official desk duty in the Center for Academic Excellence from 10 am – 5 pm (Mon-Thurs), 10 am – 2 pm (Fri) and 10 am – 2 pm (Sat) and on-call reference assistance as early as 8 am and as late as 1 am.  Just ask for help at the Service Desk and a librarian will be around to help.

Additionally, our very popular Research Consultation service (as well as our Technology Consultation service) offers students the opportunity to make one-on-one appointments with a specialist when the time is convenient for you or you and your group.  Both services offer a dedicated time slot to focus solely on your research project needs, without having to compete with other students’ questions.

As the due dates for your research projects approach and the semester gets busier and busier, see what assistance (and time savings) a Reference Librarian can offer you!