So today is the last day of my children’s summer holiday. We always like to do something special. To mark the occasion and keep their minds from fretting about the return to school.
Yesterday we brain stormed ideas but none of the days out they suggested were going to work for various reasons. Closures, height restrictions, weather etc.
In the end I had a brain wave and decided to take them to a place I haven’t been to in 22 years. Leicester. It is easy to get to on the train from where we live. My Family and Friends railcard makes it affordable to do that. I have an A-Z Street Map for the city dated c 1992. And it boasts a new Richard III museum since they discovered, excavated and reinterred his bones in the city recently.
I am a bit of a history nut. I love a castle or a stately home.
It is odd really because I dropped history when I picked my O level options mainly as the curriculum centred around modern European history and that wasn’t really my bag at the time. I find it fascinating now but as a 14 year old it didn’t float my boat. So I did Geography and spent a large part of the subsequent 4 years (as I did A level in it as well) knee deep in rivers and grappling with concentric town development and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
But as an adult I have got more and more hooked on history. Until now I was mainly obsessed with the Tudors. To the point where I would shout at inaccurate film plots – there was a recent one about Anne Boleyn that particularly annoyed me.
But more recently I have started to get more involved with what came before- namely the War of the Roses. And as such a visit to the Richard III museum was right up my alley.
Eldest is also a history nut so I had no problem persuading him. He has been studying 1066 and all that this year and has got as far as the first crusade. But he will engage with any history really. He pours, probably unhealthily, over World War books. We have been to Bletchley Park and he loved it.
The other two aren’t so keen. Although Middlest is keen to point out (repeatedly) that he got 100% in his Roman test in Year 4. Two whole years ago. I offered fresh Pokémon for the catching thereof and they were keener.
So off we went. During the train journey Eldest wanted a synopsis of Richard III and how he fitted in. Hum. The train journey was 40 minutes. I wasn’t sure I had time to do it justice. Especially as he likes to go over things ad infinitum until they are fixed in his head.
So I had a go.
There was this king Henry V who was quite popular. Why? Because he conquered lots of France. Always a good move in a monarch. (I reminded him here of us watching a re-enactment of Agincourt but he struggled to remember it- until I mentioned the long bows and a swearing gesture, then it came to mind…). No I can’t remember who his father was. It doesn’t really matter here. He was Lancastrian though- their symbol was a red rose. Anyway he died (young I think). No I don’t know of what. So his son Henry VI became king. To start with he was a baby so Richard Duke of York (he was a Yorkist whose symbol was the white rose) was Lord Protector. It means basically in charge. No that wasn’t the Richard whose bones we are going to see. It was his father. Henry wasn’t popular. Not sure why. Think it was some mental health issues and an inability to retain all those bits of France. No I don’t know what sort of mental health issues. I think he lost it when he lost it in France so to speak. They were probably the sort of mental health issues we would nowadays understand but not in the Middle Ages. Anyway there was this guy called Richard Neville who basically wanted to get rid of Henry. No not that Richard or that Richard another Richard. The Earl of Warwick. Why did he want to get rid of Henry? Because of all those reasons I just mentioned and because he wanted power for himself. You have to understand that all though kings were powerful they relied on their nobles to raise taxes and armies for them. So they had massive power too. Thank King John for that. So anyway this Richard (lets call him the Kingmaker, why? cos folks did) schemed to put Richard (the dad not the one whose bones we are going to see) on the throne. He did have a claim. Inconveniently for the Kingmaker Richard was killed in battle. So he turned attention to his son Edward. So, if you follow, that makes Edward Richard’s brother (the one whose bones we are going to see). Richard was still a boy at this time. Anyhoo Edward became Edward IV. Then he pissed everyone off by marrying the wrong girl- Elizabeth Woodville (who folks claimed was a witch) and then making all her family very important. So eventually Richard (Kingmaker) decided to put Henry VI back on the throne as a sort of puppet. Henry had been kept to the fore thanks to his amazing wife- Margaret of Anjou who had actually led troops for her husband…girl power. Well yes I did think that interesting actually. Meanwhile Edward had had lots of children. Another Elizabeth and crucially two sons Richard (yes another Richard) and Edward. Henry lasted 6 months. Why? Over reaching egotisical acts by Warwick. He got killed, silly billy. Edward was back. With an heir, Edward and a spare Richard. All seemed rosy. He made Richard (his brother not his son, no not either of the other two either they are already dead) Warden of the North. Richard (bone man) married Anne Neville (ironically the daughter of Richard (the Kingmaker one) and widow of Edward (not the brother, the son of Henry VI) and lived in the north. The other brother George had been married to Anne’s sister Isabel. Nothing like keeping it in the family. But he had backed several rebellions against his brother (Edward IV keep up) so had been executed for treason. By drowning in a vat of wine. Apparently at his own request. This is a bit of an aside but I fancied some guff about someone called something other than Richard. Or Edward. Or Henry. So brother one was out of the frame. Brother two was safely ensconced and kept busy in the north keeping the Scots at bay. Warwick was dead. Henry VI and his son were dead. He had a possible 2 male heirs. All looked rosy. Then Edward stupidly died. Bad move. His sons were 12 and 9. Too young to rule. Elizabeth Woodville (that’s the mum witchy person) wanted to control them. So did Richard (yes our Richard) so Richard intercepted Edward (and Richard) on their way to London with their mum and put them in the Tower of London. They never came out. Richard then made himself king. Not a great move. He alienated nearly everyone. The remaining Lancastrians (clinging on by their fingertips to a very spurious claimant (something to do with John of Gaunt and mistresses) Henry Tudor- yes I know you have heard of him keep listening, son, keep listening) and the Yorkists who believed Edward (the son of Edward) was rightful king which he was really but he had ‘inconveniently’ disappeared. Then Richard’s son Edward (don’t confuse him with Edward’s son Richard or indeed Edward’s son Edward both of whom are also dead but under more ‘mysterious’ circumstances) died. So he had no heir either. Ouch. Then he stupidly asked Britanny to give up Henry Tudor and Henry got wind and escaped into France. The French couldn’t wait to help upset the applecart and gave Henry (yes Tudor not the VI, he is dead) loads of dosh and mercenaries. Henry landed in Wales (where he had spent some time, had family and support) and marched into England. He met Richard (bone man) at Bosworth. Henry had less troops but those pesky Stanleys decided at the last minute to support Henry (once they could see he was winning- they liked to hedge their bets) and Richard made a fateful charge at Henry’s retinue and got himself killed. The last English monarch to be killed in battle. And then he got buried under a car park in Leicester. Henry became Henry VII (no that doesn’t mean he was Henry VI’s son (his son was called Edward and was married to Anne, daughter of Richard, before she married Richard, Edwards brother, son of Richard) just that he was the seventh king called Henry), married Elizabeth (the daughter not the widow of Edward IV) and created the Tudors and a new red and white rose. Ahhh. Then Richard (yes our Richard) was demonised by Shakespeare who we have to remember was writing for Elizabeth (not either of ours another one) who was queen at the time and the daughter of Henry, granddaughter of Henry and sister of Edward….no Richards though….
Half way round the museum we gave up on the history. Just too many Richards. But we really enjoyed all the stuff about how they found his bones, proved they were his and decided what blow from what weapon killed him. Awesome. The replica plate mail was also cool. As was his new tomb (above). I am pleased Leicester won the York/ Leicester who should have the bones battle. They deserve it.
Ironically my children have uncles called, yes you guessed it Richard and Edward….weird huh?