Until yesterday, I had imagined that the historical debate surrounding Richard III was a fairly simple one.
a) Richard Crookbook, the evil, scheming, hunchbacked tosser who murdered the Princes in the Tower and got his just comeuppance at Bosworth Field when even his horse abandoned him?
b) Poor underrated and essentially kindly Dick, the victim of a politicised smear-job by Shakespeare and others, whose reputation has rightly been restored by revisionist historians, with a bit of help from Josephine Tey in her popular historical detective novel The Daughter Of Time.
Now, however, thanks to a sermon delivered by the Bishop of Leicester at the recently unearthed king’s reinterment service at Leicester Cathedral, I am given to understand there is a Third Way on Richard III – one that enables us all to take a modishly neutral, non-judgemental and community-binding position which offends no one and unites everyone.
Turns out – damn! why didn’t we see this one earlier? – that the key fact about Richard III was this: that he was a heroic disability victim with whose pain we can all empathise in a very real sense.
Here’s how the Bishop put it in his priceless address, quoted enthusiastically by the BBC:
The “Richard Effect” has revealed a deep connection between a global audience and this young King who bore his disability with courage and knew the pain of bereavement and loss close to his own heart.
Yep. Suddenly it all becomes so obvious. Yes, in all likelihood Richard III was indeed a murderous tyrant who ordered the killing of his nephews, twelve- or thirteen-year-old Edward V and nine-year old Richard, Duke of York. But it’s all kind of OK because he’d had so much pain in his life. Not only had he known “bereavement and loss” (during the notoriously bloody Wars of the Roses, in which entire noble houses were wiped out: who would have thought, eh?) but, perhaps even more importantly, he had borne disability.
And he didn’t just bear it grudgingly or matter-of-factly – as some of us might hitherto have imagined (the cult of disability rights or victimhood not generally being thought to have been terribly well developed in the 15th century).
No, by the good Bishop’s account, he actually bore it courageously.
Really, there were really only a couple more things that could have made yesterday’s Terry Deary meets Game of Thrones show of ersatz pageantry more luvvieishly risible.
A poem written specially for the occasion by Britain’s proudly LBGT Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Check!
And read, with the appropriate hammed up solemnity, by the ineffable Benedict Cumberbatch. Check!
Hurrah for Modern Britain!