October 2, 1452 – Birthdate of Richard III

On this day in history Richard III, future King of England, was born in Northamptonshire, England. Richard was the fourth and youngest son of his family, but through the usual array of murders and machinations common to royalty, he ascended to the throne in 1483. (When Richard’s father had tried to claim the throne, for example, he ended up as a severed head adorned with a paper crown.) Richard was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet royal dynasty. His defeat and death at age 32 at Bosworth Field (the last decisive battle of the War of the Roses) by Henry Tudor (who became the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty) in 1485 ushered in a new era of English history (and literature).

In 2012, an archaeological excavation of a car park in Leicester uncovered a skeleton showing scoliosis of the spine that indicated it might be that of Richard III. Carbon dating and mitochondrial DNA analysis confirmed this suspicion in February, 2013.

In early 2014, the same University of Leicester researchers who discovered Richard III’s remains announced plans to sequence the entire genome of the deceased monarch.

The life of Richard III has become well-known mostly because of the magnificent play by Shakespeare, “Richard III,” from which a number of speeches have remained familiar, such as these excerpts show:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…

Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?

Was ever woman in this humour won?

I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.

I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,

That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:

Since every Jack became a gentleman,

There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.

Conscience is but a word that cowards use,

Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe;

Our strong arms be our conscience,
swords our law.

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings;

Kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings. 

Grim-visaged War hath smoothed his wrinkled front.

Soon, it seems, thanks to genetic sequencing, we will know Richard III better than most other famous historical figures.


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