Support for maligned king

By Gerald Ford


As the discovery of the body of King Richard III was confirmed last week, two Wairarapa enthusiasts were celebrating renewed interest in their passion

Confirmation the bones of Richard III had been discovered in a UK carpark was thrilling news for two Wairarapa defenders of the monarch.

Deidre Drysdale, of Featherston, is the president, and Rob Smith, of Greytown, the secretary of the Richard III Society of New Zealand.

The society had joined its UK parent body and others around the world to support the University of Leicester in its dig for the King Richard III's bones.

Last week the body discovered in a carpark last September was confirmed by DNA evidence to have been that of the fallen king, killed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 after just two years on the throne.

Richard III was the last of the Plantaganet kings and was defeated by the first Tudor king, Henry VII.

The King Richard III Society UK was founded in 1924 as the Fellowship of the White Boar, a group of amateur historians who felt the king had been unfairly treated by history.

In 1959, the group changed to its current name and continued to push for a revision of the much-maligned monarch's reputation, and branches of the society sprang up around the world, including in New Zealand.

The society challenges the stereotypical view of Richard as a hunchback tyrant who had allegedly murdered his nephews to take the throne.

This view was popularised by Shakespeare's villain of the play, Richard III, famously played by a limping Sir Lawrence Olivier in a film version.

Mrs Drysdale says she first became aware there was another side of the story when she read Josephine Tey's A Daughter of Time, a novel in which a modern detective examines the evidence surrounding Richard III's reign and arrives at some different conclusions.

Soon afterwards she heard a radio interview of the founder of the Richard III Society of New Zealand, and began her own involvement and continued investigation of the history.

"You ask where the source of information is, who were the authors, do they have a vested interest, did they have firsthand knowledge?" Mrs Drysdale said.

"If you study these things you get this sense of injustice."

Mr Smith said he has always had a passion for medieval English history, with its turbulent times and intrigue, and was inspired enough one year to place an In Memoriam notice for King Richard III in the newspaper.

That's when he discovered the King Richard III Society of New Zealand, then based in Lower Hutt, who had done the same thing.

The society continues to meet several times a year at venues in the lower North Island, and as Mr Smith says, "we are tremendously pleased that our raison d'etre has come to the fore".

The skeleton unearthed in Leicester shows several head wounds, one or two of them which would have been fatal, and a sideways curve of the spine.

This is consistent with descriptions of King Richard III having one shoulder higher than the other - but not with the hunchback of myth.

The group is now looking forward to the creation of a new portrait of King Richard based on facial reconstruction from the skeleton.

Some of the high points of Richard's short reign - 777 days - include the following, according to information from the Richard III Society of New South Wales:

* Outlawing of ``benevolences'' - demands for finance by the king that were unsanctioned by Parliament.

* Promoting a register of land sales, to help security of ownership.

* Introducing bail for defendants, protecting them from imprisonment before trial.

* An exemption from trade restrictions for the fledgling books and printing industry - to make books widely available for learning.

* Provisions for the poor to present petitions for justice, a forerunner of the Court of Requests.

* Anyone wishing to learn more about the Richard III Society of New Zealand can visit their website at or phone Rob Smith on (06) 304-8840.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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