A Boy’s Quest
for Richard III

 

Written by Alex Goodwin


History is my passion. I want to know what happened before me and why I’m where I am today. To quote Pope Benedict XVI when he talked about tradition, I believe he was talking about history too. History “isn’t a collection of dead things”. “It’s a living river that links us to those who came before us” so that they are remembered and not forgotten. When you are very ill lying-in hospital thinking about your life, history becomes more real to you because you feel you are very soon going be a part of it. What will people remember of you? Will you inspire them? Or be ridiculed or hated by them? What gift will you leave for those that remain?

In 2016 when I was 9 years old, I was told that my Cancer was untreatable and that they would make me comfortable until the end. I’m still here. But that is a story for another time. It is this period of my life that brought into sharp focus my love for history. My first exposure to this man, a King called Richard III of the Plantagenets, was whilst I was in my hospital bed in Leicester. Watching articles and documentaries about the War of the Roses and more recent events that told me about the discovery of his remains in a council car park actually less than a mile from where I was laying. This was the first bread crumb to find out who he was and learn more about this man called Richard III. I was then occupied by a greater need – a fight for my life. It wasn’t until I returned from the United States after a year and more of fighting and returned to School that King Richard III came back into my life again.

I had returned to School in 2019 and as we reached the end of the school year, which would be the last year of Primary School for me,  we commenced a project throughout the whole school: to present about a favorite person in history. It was then I recommenced my studies of Richard. The greatest thing that struck me was that Richard III was disabled due to disease just like me. I had my entire right femur and part of my hip removed due to cancer which caused my spine and hips to misalign. Richard had an abnormal curvature of his spine caused by Scoliosis. He would have struggled to walk and deal with pain daily just like me. To me King Richard was a very misunderstood monarch in British history. Some people view him as a tyrant and a monster while others [like myself] view him as a misunderstood man who believed he was doing the right thing for his country, for his faith and for family. Whilst he wasn’t a Saint he ruled as a king in that time but in many ways, he was ahead of his time by introducing radical new laws that were designed to make people equal in the eyes of the law. He also was the first King to take his coronation oath in English, so his subjects knew what he was pledging for the good of the realm. This Royal change from Latin to the English tongue affected other things too: it was introduced in Courts of law thanks to this Plantagenet King so that the common man would know of what he was being accused for the first time ever. Perhaps he was also a King who believed he was doing the right thing for the people. His successor Henry Tudor repealed or quashed many of these changes as they were deemed too radical. Maybe those Lords and retainers who betrayed Richard III at the end thought the same too.

I was intrigued by Richard because despite his Scoliosis he trained and became a Warrior, Leader and a King. I wanted to learn more. I had heard of Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” but this man whom I would come to know better seemed completely different from the monster written in that script. So, I began my research on Richard and learned so much but there was so much to learn. I felt like I needed to know more because every time I learned something new it raised more questions. It is interesting that lots of things that happened to the Plantagenets are happening in modern times or in more recent history. Loyalties broken and trust betrayed, struggle between powers, history being erased or changed to suit the tastes of those who were viewing it in a different time. Fake News now could be in the History lessons of the future.

I spoke often to my parents about it, and they were happy that I had this new fondness to learn more about Richard and the history around him. It was interesting that I was captured by his death at first: and not his life. This King of England found buried underneath a car park without a grave, a tombstone, a burial. For over 500 years he lay forgotten as the world changed above his head: more wars came and went, weapons changed, new transport, new beliefs. The story of his death was shrouded in mystery and intrigue with lots of theories but little fact. I read about how modern science confirmed it was him and investigation identified what probably happened. Defeated at Bosworth the body of this King was dragged through the town to show everyone that he had lost and then without any respect or dignity he was discarded. I was captivated at how monks from the nearby friary, risking their own lives, recovered his body in the dead of night and finally laid him to rest in a holy place with his God. Whether they did this as loyal subjects to the Plantagenet cause or because of a basic respect for his humanity we will never know. Time passed and the friary was destroyed ironically by the son of the King that defeated him. With the destruction of that place went the secret and knowledge of Richard’s burial there. Lost forever it seemed…. but not quite.

This place was now part of a visitor’s centre to King Richard III that is only a few miles from where I live. My first visit was in June 2019. I was captivated and overwhelmed. It seems strange but I cannot remember a lot of what happened that day. I recall that we couldn’t go into the Cathedral that day but the Visitor’s Centre was a delight on its own. It was then after this first visit that I truly immersed myself into the history of this last King of the Plantagenets and studied intently. I was desperate to go again and a short time later I did thanks to a special invitation from no other than Professor Turi King, a scientist and DNA specialist who was involved in the identification of his remains and confirming them as the last Plantagenet King. I received a tour of the centre and greater insight thanks to Emma from the Visitors Centre and Turi herself. I remember being stood on a glass floor inside the centre looking down at the hole in the ground where his body had been discovered vowing to undertake a quest. A quest to know the truth about this man: in his life and his death.

Whilst his loyal retainers had perished with him at Bosworth and his family dynasty gone, I had also learned about some of the champions that he had in this present day: Philippa Langley who led the search for him was one such champion and also a society that she was part of. That society, created in 1924 by a man called Saxon Barton was known originally as the Fellowship of the White Boar and now today as the Richard III society. My involvement in that organization would forever change the way I view the world and my future and find me pledging myself as one of those champions.

The Quest took him to Fotheringhay

My second visit at the visitor’s center and spending time with Turi King was a truly wonderful day where I learned so many things but also had again so many questions. King Richard III was portrayed in history as a villain, sly and malicious and much worse: a traitor and a murderer of children. The Richard III Society had pledged to research the life and times of this King and I want to be part of it.

So, people would ask why I and fellow people like the society believe Richard was not the person people think he is. “He was a villain in Shakespeare’s plays” well it’s just the simple saying “History is written by the victors”. As Shakespeare was playing for a Tudor audience so he had to depict Richard as the heartless villain otherwise his shows may not have been popular, he could even have been arrested for treason against the crown. Shakespeare’s Queen after all was the granddaughter of the Tudor King that defeated Richard.

The visitors centre gave information, more breadcrumbs for my quest.

After the visitor’s centre, we visited the Cathedral where Richard lay to rest. It was a beautiful and dignified resting place, fit for a King of England, filled with so much beauty. The moment I saw his Tomb I wanted to pay my respects. It was only later that I learned that there was such a deep meaning to almost everything about the Tomb and how it was designed and built that paid homage to his life. As Richard was a man who was shaped and scarred by war, as I was scarred by my battle with Cancer, he was only 8 when his father was beheaded. He remained true to family despite more hardships like his brother George Duke of Clarence trialed for treason and even though he tried to prevent his death George ended up being drowned in Malmsey wine. Richard was shaped by his past and his experience like we all are but that is a true heart of a warrior and the very reason I want to follow his story, a story of resilience and misunderstanding. As I planned my quest and journey, I knew that I would have to visit 6 places so strongly connected to his life and death and also, I would need to connect with the Richard III Society and become one of them. The 6 places would be:

  • Fotheringhay, where he was born.
  • Middleham, where he was trained to be a warrior and a leader
  • The visitor centre where the friary used to be where he was buried by Franciscan friars.
  • Leicester Cathedral where his final resting place is.
  • Bosworth Field where he was slain.
  • Ludlow Castle, where he lived while he was Duke of Gloucester.

My dad promised that he would take me to all these places. I knew that he had also become more invested in my quest as he too had grown to share this passion I had. That made me happy.

And so, then I had my quest to visit all these places of Richards life.

On 15th October 2019 I visited Fotheringhay with my family. I was so excited to go there and it was a sunny autumn day. We went strolling around the fields as well as explored the church with all that history in it. In all honesty spending moments of quiet respect and reflection in that church was very emotional. We went to explore the fields again and eventually found what remains of the family castle. It was a beautiful site as I climbed the hill and found that stone brickwork there overlooking the horizon. I was saddened that all that remained was that cluster of rocks, but this is another example of people trying to eradicate history, like James I who ordered the destruction of the family home of king Richard as retribution for his Mother’s execution. I can imagine some children just looking at it and wanting to leave but I took it all in. Once you understand all that history behind it you really feel that surge of emotion and how just a few blocks of stone can invoke such feelings.

The beauty of history like life is that it intertwines with other people’s paths. It was also where Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, she much like Richard III was loved by some and vilified by others.

We had discussed and studied King Richard III and the War of the Roses at my School Lutterworth High. My history teacher Miss. O’Neill ignited my passion again and encouraged me to seek out yet more knowledge and connect more with other people that shared my love of medieval history and most importantly gave me confidence to approach the Society. My Headteacher Mr. Kirby is a history teacher and it is thanks to his support and confidence in me that I have been able to pursue this passion so totally.

To celebrate the 536th anniversary of the battle of Bosworth we went to that field and heritage centre. I got to see to see the casket that contained the soils of Richards major places of his life with the words ‘Loyaulte Me Lie’ inscribed on it which translates as “loyalty binds me”.

“Loyaulté me lie” is more than just a motto. In those feudal times, loyalty was an unavoidable value of the knightly code of honour. Richard, then Duke of Gloucester, chose this motto and made it the foundation of each of his actions. To me I was exhilarated to be there as I was standing on history itself. It is a sad and indelible fact that this Loyalty, so important to Richard, meant nothing to his closest allies whose last-minute betrayal on the battlefield caused him to lose.

Again, as I learned more of the battle and of Richard’s last moments I couldn’t help but feel a sense of tragic loss and sympathy. Richard having learned of the betrayal by those seemingly loyal to him while the battle was already raging must have been a bitter blow to take. Seeing Lord Stanley and his army on the field assuming they were with you and then at the end finally joining the battle as enemies. As victory slipped away Richard then sighted Henry Tudor personally and decided on a Gallant charge to try and seize victory from the claws of defeat. Richard fought bravely and felled several knights in brutal hand to hand combat even when he was unhorsed facing mounted adversaries. This reveals another Untruth about his story. Shakespeare’s tale tells us of how he begged for a steed to flee the battle, the truth it would seem is that he was offered a horse to survive but he declined and decided to continue the fight as if leaving his fate to his courage and to God.

Many of the things we see as truths are simply what we have been told to believe. I felt and still feel it is my mission and quest alongside my fellow scholars and adventurers in the Richard III Society to reveal the truth and cast aside that which is wrong. The only places left to visit to complete my quest are the castles at Ludlow and Middleham. I am still rehabilitating from my illness and my surgery, so my travels leave me exhausted but I am committed to making the journey.

I was exhilarated to eventually spend time with my fellows in the Society at our recent gathering in York. I was excited and enthused to share conversations with fellow Richardians. It is nice to feel part of something greater than yourself. I was fortunate to see the Middleham jewel and other prized artifacts that weekend. Further breadcrumbs for my journey and a greater incentive to get to visit the remains of the castles at Middleham and Ludlow.

My final words must be about two very special people in the society who I met after watching and reading about them: Philippa Langley and Matthew Lewis. Both were very kind and regarded me as part of their team despite my age. Whilst I have lots more to learn I hope my enthusiasm and passion shines through. I think they see that.

  Alexander Goodwin is passionate about history, nature, conservation and aviation. He is also a cancer survivor who had to learn to walk again following extensive cancer treatment and surgery – which removed his right Femur completely and reconstructed his Tibia and Pelvic bone. He continues to endure intensive cancer rehabilitation in the hopes that he will walk unaided once again. He is an archer and falconer who enjoys spending time with his owl, Willow, and pursuing the ancient art and modern sport of the longbow. He is a proud member of the King Richard III Society.

You can follow his journey on Social Media
(Search “Alexander’s Journey”) and at
www.alexanders-journey.com.