A thrilling palimpsest of folklore, drama, archaeology and Tudor propaganda means that we will probably never begin to approach the truth about the reign and character of the man Shakespeare painted as "rudely stamp'd… deformed, unfinish'd". A monster of sadism, duplicity and cunning, much worse than bad king John, more cruel than Henry VIII and less fit than Charles I for the English throne, Richard III is by far the most reviled entry in a catalogue of sovereigns not exactly renowned for their grace, distinction, or humanity.
Shakespeare has a line for that, too, from Mark Anthony's celebrated eulogy for the assassinated Julius Caesar: "The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones." The sensational find of the Grey Friars skeleton in Leicester last week, grippingly replete with evidence of severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine), has reanimated an old English argument about the last of the Plantagenets. Various commentators, rallying to the royal standard like trusty housecarls, have focused on the DNA angle. Conclusively identify the remains, goes the argument, and a process of regal restoration and rehabilitation can finally begin. For these inky royalists, the Queen's intervention in this saga cannot come soon enough.
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