Richard III: The Crooked King

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King Richard the Third of England
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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Katy Blake.

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And I’m Mike Procter. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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More than five centuries ago, two armies fought a great battle. The battle ended years of civil war in England. On one side of the battle field was the army of King Richard III. On the other side was the army of Henry Tudor. Henry wanted to become king.

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During the battle, King Richard saw a chance to kill Henry. Richard rode his horse quickly toward Henry.  He killed many of Henry’s soldiers. But then, King Richard’s horse became stuck in the wet battlefield. The king fell. He fought hard, but there were too many enemy soldiers around him. The soldiers crushed Richard’s head and killed him. Later, they carried his dead body through the streets for all the people to see.

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Religious leaders finally buried Richard’s body in a nearby church. But years later the church was destroyed. And Richard’s body was forgotten. Today’s Spotlight is on the recent discovery of Richard III’s body. This news about his death has caused many people to look again at his life.

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Richard III was the last king of England to die in battle. His body did not receive honour. He was not buried in Westminster Abbey, the great Christian church in London where many English kings are buried. He was also not buried where he wanted to be. Richard wanted to be buried at his family home near the ancient city of York. Instead King Richard was buried in the city of Leicester, near the battle field where he died. And there he lay, forgotten.

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Hundreds of years went by. The church building had been destroyed long ago. The city around Richard’s body had changed. No one knew where his bones were. Then, in 2012, a team of experts began a new search.  These archaeologists were looking for the body of King Richard. But they were not looking in a place that would honour a king. The team was digging under a car park, a place where people leave their cars.

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Soon, the team found human bones. Immediately, they thought it was King Richard. They thought this because the skeleton’s spine was unusual.  This bone in the middle of a human’s back is usually straight. However, the spine they found was bent or crooked. And history books had long told of how King Richard’s spine was crooked.

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The archaeologists wanted to be sure it was King Richard. So, they performed many tests on the skeleton. Many things proved that the bones were Richard III’s, including DNA tests.

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However, many people believed it was Richard just because of the reports about the crooked spine. For hundreds of years, people had remembered Richard for this. Artists painted pictures of Richard with one of his shoulders higher than the other. And writers told stories of ‘crooked’ Richard. However, crooked has another meaning too. For example, people say that criminals are crooked. This means that their character is not straight and honest.

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Many people say that Richard III was a crooked king – both in the way he looked and in his character. This is how England’s greatest writer, William Shakespeare, described King Richard. Over 400 years ago, Shakespeare wrote a famous play about Richard III. At this time, many people believed that a disability was a sign of evil. So Shakespeare made Richard even more disabled in his play. His character did not just have a crooked back. He also had an arm that did not work. In the play, Richard also murdered his brother. And he made secret plans to steal power.

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Shakespeare’s play is not historically true. However, his work has shaped many people’s opinions of King Richard III. Shakespeare wrote his drama when the granddaughter of Henry Tudor ruled England. And here is the problem. Most of our information about Richard III comes from people who supported Henry Tudor and his family.

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There is another famous story about Richard’s crooked character. This is not a story from literature. It is a mysterious story from history. But no one knows the full truth. It is the story of ‘The Princes in the Tower.

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Richard’s older brother, Edward, had been king before him. He died, but his two sons were too young to rule the country. So Richard took his brother’s place. He was supposed to protect the young boys from their enemies. He was supposed to take care of the country, until his oldest nephew could rule.

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But the boy princes disappeared. They were never seen again. Richard became king instead. Followers of Henry Tudor said Richard killed his brother’s sons. Others believe that Richard cared for the boys, but that Henry had them killed when he became king. However, what exactly happened is still a mystery today.

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We do know some facts about Richard. Richard lived in a dangerous time. Powerful men spent much time plotting against each other. And he did have many of his strongest enemies killed.

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But other facts do not match the stories about Richard’s crooked character. While his brother Edward was king, Richard was loyal to him. As a soldier, he fought for Edward in many battles. Richard also had a loving relationship with his wife and his own son.

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We also know that his people loved Richard. He gave money to universities and churches. He did many things to help the poor. This does not seem like the kind of person who would murder his brother’s children!

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We may never know the truth about Richard III. The history of his life seems to be crooked too! However, like all people, Richard was probably a mix of good and evil. This is exactly what Philippa Langley believes. Langley is a film writer. She has long believed that Richard was not as evil as many people think. She is part of an organization that defends Richard’s character. And she was one of the people responsible for finding Richard’s body. Langley hopes the discovery will create discussion about his life. Langley told the New York Times newspaper,

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“The truth will turn out to be somewhere in between. Richard III was a man of his time. But what we know of him does not equal him being a vicious man and a purely evil killer. Now, we may be able to finally discover who the real Richard is.”

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The writer of this program was Alan Harris. The producer was Nick Mangeolles. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Richard III: the Crooked King.’

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We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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