Lucy explores British history as a concoction of fibs and stories manipulated by whoever was in power. This episode debunks the foundation myth of the Tudors.
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'Lots of people remember their history lessons from school
'as dates and battles, kings and queens, facts and figures.
'But the story of our past is open to interpretation
'and much of British history is a carefully edited
'and even deceitful version of events.'
You might think that history is just a record of what happened.
Actually, it's not like that at all.
As soon as you do a little digging,
you discover that it's more like a tapestry of different stories,
woven together by whoever was in power at the time.
In this series,
I'm going to debunk some of the biggest fibs in British history.
In the 17th century,
politicians and artists helped turn a foreign invasion
into the triumphal tale of Britain's glorious revolution.
'In the 19th century, a British government coup in India...'
'..was rebranded by the Victorians
'as the civilising triumph of the Empire.
'And in this episode,
'I'll find out how the story of the Wars of the Roses was invented
'by the Tudors to justify their power.
'And then immortalised by the greatest storyteller of them all.
'Shakespeare presented this
'as the darkest chapter in the nation's history.'
Now is the winter of our discontent.
Two rival dynasties, the House of Lancaster and the House of York,
were locked in battle for the crown of England.
This was the real-life Game of Thrones.
Brothers fought against brothers.
Anointed kings were deposed.
And innocent children were murdered.
Never before had the country experienced
such treachery and bloodshed.
In 1485, a wicked king, Richard III, was slain.
And Henry Tudor took the throne.
Henry's victory would herald the ending of the Middle Ages
and the founding of the great Tudor dynasty.
It was to be England's salvation.
Or so the story goes.
With history, the line between fact and fiction often gets blurred.
In 1455, the village of Stubbins, in Lancashire,
was the scene of a legendary battle
in the Wars of the Roses.
The fighting began with volleys of arrows, but then, to their horror,
both sides realised that they'd run out of ammunition.
In desperation, the Lancastrians grabbed some makeshift weapons -
they happened to have a supply of their local delicacy,
black puddings from Bury.
And with these, they pelted the Yorkists.
But, as luck would have it,
the Yorkists had their own supply of missiles -
With which they bombarded the Lancastrians.
Now, most disappointingly,
this 15th century food fight never really happened.
It's a local legend that was conjured up as long ago as 1983.
But what the Battle of Stubbins Bridge does tell us is that,
although the dates and the details might be hazy,
the Wars of the Roses are still alive and well
in what you might call our national memory.
What you think you know about the Wars of the Roses though
and what really happened
are two quite different things.
According to the history books,
the Wars of the Roses is the story of the fatal rivalry
between the House of Lancaster and the House of York,
between the red rose and the white.
But the saga of a country divided by 30 years of bloody wars
and deadly hate was largely invented by the Tudors,
then spun into the dynasty's foundation myth
by the greatest storyteller of all, William Shakespeare.
And there is a firm basis for this tale
of devastating national conflict.
On a single day in 1461, the bloodshed was only too real.
In the middle of a snowstorm, on the 29th of March, in Towton, Yorkshire,
the Lancastrian and Yorkist forces clashed head-to-head.
The result was utter carnage.
The Lancastrians started out the day pretty well,
but then the tide began to turn against them.
They were chased by the Yorkists down this steep and icy slope,
the blizzard was still blowing,
and that little river at the bottom was flooded,
so they couldn't get any further.
This meant that the Yorkists came down the hill
and started massacring them.
So many men died that their blood stained the snow red.
This became known as the Bloody Meadow.
A century later,
William Shakespeare would depict the battle as a medieval Armageddon,
where fathers slaughtered their own sons
and sons murdered their own fathers.
Towton had come to symbolise a country torn apart by war.
The scale of the killing was so great that there's been nothing else
quite as bad in the whole of our history.
On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916,
19,000 British soldiers were killed.
But here at Towton, contemporary reports talk about 28,000 dead.
That's 1% of the entire population killed on a single day.
20 years ago, Bradford University's archaeology department
revealed the true barbarity of the fighting
when they uncovered the remains of 43 men killed at Towton.
George, we've got five skulls of people here on the table.
How was this gentleman finished off here?
It's kind of square.
That is with a horseman's hammer.
But this particular skull has another sign of extreme violence
inflicted with a pole axe.
The head was forced down into the spine,
so the skull has actually shown signs of splitting.
This sort of desecration of the body,
that's actually robbing them of life in the next life.
You are disfiguring them and they can't be resurrected.
This battle is truly horrendously brutal,
but is it the norm for the Wars of the Roses?
No. It was exceptional. Certainly, in the enormous number
of people who fought and died at Towton.
I think people might have the impression that they were just
fighting for decade after decade after decade,
but within this period, how many battles actually were there?
Well, there were skirmishes but, in terms of real battles,
around about eight.
The feud between the Houses of Lancaster and York did fester for
three decades, but the idea that this was a period utterly ravaged
by all-out war, well, that's just historical fiction.
Yes, Towton was a truly brutal battle, but it was also unique.
The other battles in the Wars of the Roses
had much lower death tolls.
And the idea that the country was totally consumed by war is wrong.
Some historians argue that,
out of the 32 years of the Wars of the Roses,
the fighting only lasted for a total of 13 weeks.
That would mean that there were months, years, even a whole decade,
when England was at peace.
The reason we talk of this era
as the Wars of the Roses isn't an accident.
It's the story told by the winning side,
the history the Tudors wanted us to remember.
It began with their account of the battle
that brought the war to an end -
the Battle of Bosworth.
The Lancastrian Henry Tudor
emerged as a victorious hero
who had ended 30 years of bloodshed.
He'd saved the nation
from a villainous tyrant -
the Yorkist King Richard III.
'The Tudors made sure Bosworth would be remembered as the ultimate clash
'between the forces of good and evil.
'Helped along by William Shakespeare,
'who relished their juicy tale,
'the battle has been so mythologized
'that it's hard to sort fact from fiction.'
Historians used to think that the Battle of Bosworth took place
about two miles away, over there, up on top of the hill,
but over the last ten years,
all sorts of interesting finds have been emerging from the fields
That's things like parts of 15th-century swords
and about 40 of these fantastically deadly-looking cannonballs.
The battle must have taken place here.
Now, despite this confusion about its location, a myth, a legend
has grown up about exactly what happened that day.
It's one of our great national stories
and it goes something like this.
'King Richard III goes into battle wearing a crown,
'symbol of what's at stake that day.'
Richard declares, "This day I will die as King or I will win."
And even his enemies admit that he fights courageously.
'Richard gets within a sword's length of Henry Tudor,
'but the enemy forces overwhelm him.
'In desperation, he cries out,
'"My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!"'
And then he's killed with a blow to the head
and he loses his crown.
'After Henry's victory,
'Richard's crown is discovered in a hawthorn bush.
'And Henry is crowned with it on the battlefield.'
Now, how much of this really happened?
It's impossible to say.
But the reason that this is the story we know
is because it's the one Henry wanted us to remember.
Henry wanted to make everyone aware of his decisive victory
on the battlefield, but that was the easy part.
In a nation divided,
Henry's enemies still believed that he was a usurper,
who had stolen the crown from the anointed King Richard III.
Henry needed to legitimise his new reign,
so when his first parliament met a few months after Bosworth,
he made sure that it was his version of events that was recorded.
One telling detail that Henry had written
into the records of Parliament
was that his reign had begun on the 21st of August 1485.
Now, this is a bit odd because the Battle of Bosworth
wasn't until the 22nd of August 1485.
Was this a slip of the quill?
No, it was deliberate.
Henry was claiming that he'd already been king, even before the battle,
so he wasn't a usurper stealing the crown,
he was just taking what was rightfully his.
He cunningly realised that his success didn't just lie
in victory on the battlefield, it also lay in the way that the
history of the Wars of the Roses would be written.
Henry's next move was equally cunning.
On the 18th of January 1486, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York,
daughter of Edward IV.
Henry would present his match as the start of a glorious new chapter
in the nation's history.
Henry realised that picking the right wife was important
but that telling the right story about the marriage was even more so.
The story that he wanted to tell was that this was one of the
most important marriages in history.
Here he was, a Lancastrian, marrying Elizabeth, a Yorkist,
they were going to heal the nation.
They had once been bitter rivals
but now, they were loving bedfellows.
But his cunning storytelling had another advantage too.
It glossed over the very inconvenient fact that
an awful lot of people thought
that he had no right to the throne at all.
Henry hoped that his marriage to Elizabeth
would be seen as a fresh start.
It would also divert attention away from his less than royal lineage.
This is a genealogical roll, showing the kings of England,
going right back into the mists of time.
It goes back as far as Brutus,
the mythical king 1,000 years before the Romans.
You can't even see Brutus because he's still rolled up,
we couldn't fit the whole thing onto the table.
And as you come down this end, towards me,
you move forwards into the period of the Wars of the Roses.
These circles contain pictures of all the different kings,
most of them called Edward.
This one's called Rex Ted,
which pleases me.
As we get down here, we have some Henrys.
Here is another Edward.
Here is Richard III and then,
the main red line peters out.
Where is the next king, Henry VII?
Well, he's been squished in at the side
as the husband of Elizabeth of York.
So, where has he popped up from?
This black line tells us.
It goes back to Henry's grandmother, Catherine,
who was a proper Queen of England,
but her second husband, Henry's grandfather,
was this chap, Owen Tudor,
a servitor in camera,
that means a chamber servant.
Or in other words, a bit of rough.
This family tree reveals Henry's dirty secret.
The fact that his claim to the throne was decidedly dodgy.
It won't surprise you to learn that the scroll belonged to a family who
didn't like Henry, the De La Poles.
They were plotting against him.
The document also explains why he had to marry Elizabeth.
She really was royal.
She was the daughter of a king,
whereas Henry himself was just the grandson of a servant.
But this isn't the tale that Henry would tell us if he were here.
He didn't present his marriage as a matter of political expediency,
he described it as an extraordinary act of reconciliation.
Henry made his marriage, the union of the Houses of York and Lancaster,
into the centrepiece of a super successful propaganda campaign
to secure his new dynastic ambitions.
This really beautiful book is a medieval anthology of poetry,
prose and advice for educating a prince.
But it's best known for its wonderful illustrations.
Including this one of the Tower of London.
This particular picture has a coat of arms
and these two creatures
are very curly haired lions.
They are black now because they've tarnished.
But they were once silver
and they were the silver lions of King Edward IV.
They show that this book was once in his library.
'The Yorkist King Edward won the throne in 1471
'after defeating his Lancastrian opponents.'
This time in the border, we have got red and white roses,
representing the House of Lancaster and the House of York
and their rivalry in progress at the time, the Wars of the Roses.
The odd thing though about this illustration is that,
during the actual time of the Wars of the Roses,
when this manuscript was first produced,
the red rose had nothing at all to do with the House of Lancaster.
The border was changed,
it was added in at a later date by Henry VII himself.
He was the one who adopted the red rose
as the House of Lancaster's symbol.
And now, look at this.
Adopting the red rose for Lancaster
was only the first stage of
Henry's iconographical plan because now he could combine it
with the white rose of his wife, Elizabeth of York,
to create the multicoloured Tudor rose.
Normally, the inner petals are white and the outer petals are red.
This one happens to be quartered, but you get the general idea.
It's red and white together.
And so this new Tudor rose became the symbol of the new Tudor dynasty
and it was such a powerful symbol
that it allowed Henry VII to completely revise history.
The rose became Henry VII's logo,
shorthand for the story of how he'd heroically united a divided nation.
Over time, he made it the universally recognised symbol
of Tudor might.
'Across the country, from books to buildings,
'Tudor roses started to bloom.
'In Cambridge, Henry made King's College Chapel
'into the backdrop
'for one of the most overwhelming displays of Tudor propaganda.'
Anna, this chapel was begun by Henry VI
but he didn't finish it, did he?
Well, the chapel had been being built for quite some time
but then the Wars of the Roses happened,
resources got diverted and so, when Henry VII became king,
it was unfinished.
It looked nothing like this, none of this beautiful vaulted ceiling.
It was makeshift, it had a sort of timber ceiling,
and it was very much a sort of work in progress and really was much more
of a sort of blight on the landscape
than anything that made a great statement of power.
'But in 1508, Henry VII gave the chapel
'a much-needed cash injection.'
Now, this is a bit different, isn't it?
'Henry died the following year
'but his financial backing ensured that the chapel was completed
'and decorated according to his Tudor vision.'
It's fantastic. I mean,
it's the story really of Henry VII's journey to the throne.
It's his claim to the throne.
We have the greyhound, which is the symbol of Margaret Beaufort,
We have the dragon, highlighting Henry's Welsh descent.
And we have, of course, Tudor roses everywhere.
They look like they are on steroids.
What kind of chemicals have they been treated with
to make them so juicy and enormous? They look like cabbages.
It's Tudor chemicals, isn't it?
It's the sort of vitality, the virility of the Tudors.
And, of course, above the Tudor rose, you see the crown,
so again, it's underlying, these are now royal symbols.
This is Henry saying, "Game over. Now it's the Tudors all the way."
And really, I would argue it's almost like one of the first sort of
ubiquitous brands that people across the country,
you know, identify with.
They know the Tudor brand, they know the Tudor rose.
It's all about propaganda, it's all about myth-making, but I think,
you know, we are still talking about it, so it was hugely successful.
'With control of the crown, Henry also controlled the narrative.
'In the emerging Tudor tale of the Wars of the Roses,
'Henry was the conquering hero and, not surprisingly,
'the historians during his reign all agreed.'
This book is called The History Of The Kings Of England.
'And it's the work of an exceptionally unreliable narrator.'
It is written by John Rous,
who was an antiquary and historian. And he is writing it
during the reign of Richard III
but he actually finishes it after Henry VII has become king.
John Rous has written this book for his new boss, Henry VII,
what's he got to say about him?
He talks about Henry being such a good king,
"For he will be remembered for generations to come."
HE SPEAKS LATIN
"For many centuries he will be remembered."
Rous started writing this book when Richard III was still the boss.
What does he have to say about Richard III?
John Rous isn't very complimentary about Richard at all.
And in fact,
-let's look at the passage where he describes Richard's own birth.
It says that he had been in his mother's womb for two years.
He was born "cum dentibus" - with teeth.
"Et capillis ad humeros."
-That's hair to the shoulder.
-Hair to the shoulders.
And then there's this slightly mysterious word
that could be talons.
Talons, which is quite creepy, isn't it?
That's very monstrous.
And then it says he was born under the sign of Scorpio
and he continued to behave in life like a scorpion.
This is a really striking vilification of Richard III.
Is this the first one? Does it all start here?
The demonization of Richard is taking place here and, in fact,
later down on this particular page,
Rous accuses Richard of committing several murders
including the murder of his own wife, the murder of his nephews
and also the fact that he had killed,
with his own hands, Henry VI.
What do you think Rous' motives were for writing this history in this
-John Rous is writing specifically in order to praise
the new king of England, Henry VII.
He was only writing what he expected his readers would want to read.
Demonising Richard when you're now ruled by his archrival, Henry,
was certainly sensible.
And Tudor historians onwards went to town.
Richard III was said to be
"malicious, wrathful and envious"
as a king.
He was also a "lump of foul deformity."
"Ill-featured of limbs."
And "hard-favoured of visage."
As Rous reveals, telling the truth was less important
than pandering to the right master.
At an earlier stage of his career,
he'd written other works in which he praised Richard III instead.
This document is called The Rous Roll.
And John Rous actually made it for presentation to Anne Neville,
who was the wife of Richard III.
We've got the same historian, John Rous,
writing just three years earlier...
While Richard III is still king of England.
This is Richard himself and, in fact, he's described here as
"the most mighty Prince, Richard, King of England,
"and of France, and Lord of Ireland."
And then it goes on to say that "he got great thank of God
"and love of all his subjects, rich and poor.
"And great love of the people of all other lands about him."
So, this couldn't be any better, really.
He's a fantastic king, he's doing a great job and everybody loves him.
he's not what I was expecting at all.
There's no sign of a hunchback here at all, is there?
No, he's the perfect knight, in fact.
He's wearing his armour.
He's got rather a lovely face.
He's got beautiful curly hair.
Although it's in a bit of a pudding basin,
which isn't my favourite hairstyle.
He's actually depicted more as a Renaissance prince
rather than the deformed caricature that we know of
from the works of Shakespeare.
So, Julian, we've got two very contrasting pictures of Richard III
from the same historian.
Where does the truth lie?
Well, who knows where the truth actually lies,
but what we can say is that John Rous was writing in order to
gain the favour of the people who were actually paying him.
That's really depressing.
We can't believe historians.
You can never believe a historian.
Well, tell that to the Tudors
because Henry and his historians' dodgy stories were unshakeable.
When Henry VII died in 1509, and his son Henry VIII succeeded him,
the new Henry didn't abandon his father's dynastic founding myth.
Far from it, he embraced the tale and made it his own.
Unlike his father,
the new King Henry hadn't had to fight for his crown
and there were no questions over his right to rule.
But he still emblazoned the dynasty's new symbol,
the Tudor rose,
onto one of the country's most formidable institutions,
the Yeomen of the Guard.
I think I might have a better codpiece than you.
I think you might do.
Alan, I'm clearly wearing the trousers of a muscular giant.
When were the Yeomen of the Guard formalised as a body of men?
Well, that was after the Battle of Bosworth Field, in 1485.
Henry VII, of course,
defeated Richard at that battle
and having defeated him,
of course, was pretty much worried for his own safety.
-And so then, formed up to 300 Yeomen of the Guard.
Henry VIII adopted his father's Yeomen Guards
and increased their number to 600.
When Henry appeared on important occasions,
he'd be surrounded by this magnificent troop.
Show me my Tudor version.
'Henry also introduced the Yeomen's iconic scarlet uniform
'and a modern version of it is still worn today.'
You're going to slip into something equally comfortable yourself.
Yes, I am.
One arm in.
Now, let's discuss our chests.
On my chest, I've got a Tudor rose,
that is going to become the rose of England.
-It is indeed.
-It's still there, 500 years later.
This is a symbol that's really endured, isn't it?
-And that's a very fancy thistle.
Introduced when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England.
Of course, over here, the shamrock,
which was introduced on the Act of Union.
So you have the whole of the United Kingdom on your belly.
There we go.
-Are we ready for our photo opportunity?
'Under Henry VIII,
'the Tudor rose went from being the symbol of one royal marriage
'to an emblem for the whole nation.'
This Tudor rose has been an incredibly powerful
and long-lasting symbol.
'You will still find it today representing England
'on the Queen's coronation dress,'
on the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress,
and you might even find it in your pocket
because it's still on the 20p.
'Henry VIII had nailed down his father's version
'of the story of the Wars of the Roses.
'By the middle of the 16th century,
'the people who'd experienced the wars had pretty much all died,
'but the story was still alive.
'But when Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558,
'her grandfather's myth-making proved incredibly useful.'
Ah, here I am in my younger days.
This is Elizabeth I's coronation portrait.
She's wearing all the trappings of majesty,
she's holding her orb and sceptre
and she's wearing ermine, the royal fur.
But this picture glosses over the fact that Elizabeth's coronation
was a bit of a touch-and-go affair.
The problem was that she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn,
the product of a marriage that had been declared null and void.
You could argue that she was illegitimate.
This was such a big problem that it was actually quite hard to find
a bishop willing to anoint her.
Right at the start of her reign,
Elizabeth had to assert her right to rule
and she did so in the same way that her father, Henry VIII,
and grandfather Henry VII had done before her.
If you look closely at her magnificent gold coronation robe,
you will see that it is embroidered with the Tudor rose.
She herself was treated as the living embodiment of the Tudor rose.
The poet Edmund Spenser even described how in the Royal cheek,
the red rose was melded with the white.
In almost every respect,
Elizabeth brilliantly delivered on the promise of her predecessors.
But as the decades passed, she failed to produce an heir.
And without that heir, Elizabeth subjects were haunted
by spectres of a horribly familiar past.
As the country faced an uncertain future in the 1590s,
the memory of the Wars of the Roses took on a new meaning.
People started to worry that when the Queen died,
there might once again be civil war,
with rival claimants fighting for the crown.
History might repeat itself.
At the end of the 16th century,
the history play transformed Tudor fibs into compelling fiction.
For the nation's greatest playwright, William Shakespeare,
the Wars of the Roses had all the ingredients for drama.
And with his Machiavellian plots
and his murderous villain,
he wrote the conflict's definitive script.
'Henry VI Part 1 was the first of Shakespeare's plays
'covering the wars, and it proved a very palpable hit.
'One of the play's best-known scenes
'is set in the gardens of Inner Temple,
'one of the Inns of Court.
'It's the very start of the conflict and the leading nobles are deciding
'which side to fight for.
'Red or white.'
Richard, Duke of York, is going to challenge the King, Henry VI,
for the crown and he tells his supporters to pluck a white rose.
The Duke of Somerset, who is on the King's side,
he tells his supporters to pluck a red rose,
"a bleeding rose", he calls it.
And at the end of the scene,
the Earl of Warwick prophesises the bloodshed to come.
"This brawl today in the Temple Garden," he says,
"Shall send between the red rose and the white
"1,000 souls to death and deadly night."
The scene became famous because it neatly turned the messy reality
into a straightforward struggle between red and white.
And it went on to inspire an Edwardian painting
which is one of the war's most celebrated images.
This floral phoney war preceding the actual fighting
didn't really happen.
But nevertheless, you will see pictures of it in history books.
And that's because Shakespeare's fictional version
of the Wars of the Roses is such a good story, it's so powerful,
that it trumps the truth.
'From John Rous' character assassination
'of Richard III onwards,
'Shakespeare found his history books packed with tales of the conflict.
'They were ripe for recycling.
'After Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3
'came one of his masterpieces, Richard III.'
Andrew, this is an early, very early,
collected edition of Shakespeare's works.
And it's split into the comedies and the tragedies.
But then also, the histories.
Is that a new category of play?
There had been history plays before
but Shakespeare is one of
the first writers who writes
a sustained number of histories.
The Henry VI plays are blockbusters.
Parts 2 and 3 are written first and they are so popular
that Part 1 is then written afterwards.
It's the first kind of trilogy that we have surviving.
So, history, it's not funny, it's not sad, it's a bit of both?
You can do what you want with a history,
depending on what the facts tell you.
You don't have to stick to the facts, goodness me!
You don't quite have to stick to the facts, no, that's right.
How old-fashioned of you! THEY LAUGH
How does Shakespeare go about taking history and turning it into fiction?
-What is his method?
-Shakespeare is very much a magpie.
He uses bits and pieces from history, as he wants to.
He uses chronicles like Holinshed,
which is one of the most important of Tudor chronicles
that shows the triumph of the Tudors.
Sometimes you can catch him in the act of being inspired
-by these histories, can you?
There's this passage which describes Richard III.
"He was small and little of stature, so was he of body greatly deformed,
"the one shoulder higher than the other.
"His face small but his countenance was cruel,
"a man would judge it to savour and smell of malice, fraud and deceit."
That's a killer line.
I recognise this character.
This is the evil Richard that we know and love.
Exactly. And that is something that Shakespeare clearly expands.
He's really not afraid to use history, to use the past,
to make moral points, is he?
Good, bad, do it like this, don't do it like that.
That's exactly right. History is told and retold because it tells you
lessons, because you start to think about things that you might be able
to do rather better than last time.
A cautionary tale.
For Elizabethan audiences,
tales of the country torn apart by rival factions
struck a powerful chord.
Just 60 years earlier,
Henry VIII's break with Rome had caused the country to divide,
along religious fault lines.
Protestant and Catholic.
So another civil war seemed an ever-present danger.
Is this all happening because Elizabeth I is getting old?
They are worried she is going to die,
they are worried there is going to be another War of the Roses?
That's exactly right.
There's a great fear that there will be a religious war that will be even
worse than the dynastic war of the Wars of the Roses.
So this is water-cooler conversation in the 1590s.
I would have thought so. Yes.
Shakespeare redefined the Wars of the Roses
and he turned Richard III from a crude Tudor cliche
into a truly captivating antihero.
From David Garrick in the 18th century
to Edmund Kean in the 19th,
the biggest stars of the stage have made their names playing the part.
Right from the start, audiences were fascinated
by Shakespeare's character of Richard III.
There's a story about THE most famous Elizabethan actor,
He was playing the part and that night he got a message from a lady
who'd been in the audience, saying,
"Come to my room, Mr Burbage, I've taken a fancy to you."
But she wanted him to come in character.
She'd been seduced by Richard III's blend of cruelty and charisma,
which has kept people interested ever since.
Shakespeare followed the lead of Tudor historians by playing up
Richard's apparently monstrous appearance.
'And the Royal Shakespeare Company's costume collection reveals how
'Richard's physical body has come to define our image of the man.'
Robyn, how many different depictions of Richard III have you had
-here in Stratford?
which was the first permanent theatre company in Stratford,
there's been around 45 different productions.
-He's definitely one of the most popular, I think, yes.
The first one I can show you is actually my favourite
and that's a 1984 production of Richard III
and it was actually played by Sir Antony Sher.
He played it as a spider.
In the text, he is described as a "bottled spider".
He was wearing a very tight Lycra body suit.
It's a bit like those pyjamas that kids wear with Superman,
-you know, and they have built-in muscles.
-Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
This is one of three humps that were used in the production.
And it's the one that he wore most of the time on stage.
So, it's, I guess you could say, his favourite hump.
Hm, it smells...
-Yeah, it does.
It's a very unattractive item altogether, isn't it?
It was actually strapped on to Antony Sher.
Little buttons up the front.
So he would have worn this, very tight and close to his body.
It's basically because of Shakespeare that I'm thinking that
-the smell of Antony Sher's sweat is the smell of evil.
So, can we have a look at a contrasting Richard III?
This is from a 1980 production of Richard III, Alan Howard,
who played Richard III.
Again, this is a different concentration on another disability.
Critics actually compared it to a surgical boot.
Unlike Antony Sher, who was very nimble across the stage,
Alan Howard, his interpretation was very, very slow, very heavy.
You can see how much pain he was in throughout the production.
What's going on with this arm here?
Ah, yes. That's Richard's withered arm.
It really is withering away.
It looks like a zombie falling to pieces as he walks along.
Is he always portrayed with a physical problem of some kind?
Yes. They do all have some type of disability.
Today, I think we kind of take that with us,
so Shakespeare's idea of Richard III
is, kind of, our idea of Richard III, really.
For Shakespeare and his first audiences,
Richard's hunch and his arm and his limp
weren't just physical deformities.
They believed in the science of physiognomy,
that suggested that your outward appearance
reflected your inner self.
So if Richard was deformed, he must have had an irredeemably evil soul.
The tale of the Princes in the Tower reveals the enduring power of
Shakespeare's depiction of the monstrous Richard.
Richard imprisoned his two young nephews in the Tower of London
after the death of their father, King Edward IV.
And there he had the tender babes murdered,
this ruthless piece of butchery,
giving him the crown that was rightfully theirs.
'In the 17th century,
'people were still gripped by tales of evil Richard,
'so well over 100 years after
'the disappearance of the unfortunate princes,
'their fate remained a fascinating mystery to be solved.
'And in 1619,
'the historian Sir George Buck heard that the bodies of the princes
'might still be in the tower.'
Buck wrote that certain bones, like the bones of a child,
had been found in a remote and desolate turret of the tower.
But on closer examination,
these turned out to be the bones of an ape.
It's quite a sad story.
One of the apes from the tower menagerie wandered off,
it somehow got itself into this turret, and there it died.
'A few decades later, one John Webb reported a more promising lead.'
A secret sealed room had been discovered,
built into one of the walls at the King's lodgings.
That's a building that was here. It's gone now.
'And in the secret room, there was a table and on the table,
'there were bones.'
This time, at least the bones were human, not animal's,
but the problem was that these were the remains
of really little children,
six or eight years old, too young to have been the little princes.
'At last, in 1674,
'the 190-year-old mystery appeared to have been solved.'
Workmen excavating the foundations of a predecessor at this staircase
discovered a wooden chest and in it were more children, two of them.
This time, it was decided that they really and truly were
the little princes.
The discovery of these remains only fuelled an obsession with this
legendary crime and when the princes were at last laid to rest,
the reigning monarch, Charles II, seized the opportunity
to condemn wicked King Richard's terrible wrong.
These bones from the tower were brought to a final resting place
at Westminster Abbey,
burial place of kings and queens since Edward the Confessor.
Charles II commissioned a special marble funeral urn for the little
princes and this proved to be the perfect place
to hold their murderer to account.
The inscription on it said that they'd been killed
by "their perfidious uncle, Richard the Usurper."
So the Stuarts took the Tudor tale about Richard's crimes,
they accepted it as fact and they even set it in stone.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne more than three and a half
centuries after the start of the Wars of the Roses,
the conflict was little more than a distant memory.
And the Victorian vision of medieval England was shaped
by the bestselling novelist Sir Walter Scott.
His rip-roaring tales of knights in shining armour were full of
historical fantasy but very short on historical fact.
To 19th-century Romantics like Walter Scott,
the Wars of the Roses represented the Middle Ages gone wrong.
Scott wasn't very fond of the period.
Out of more than 20 novels, he only set one in it,
the rather obscure Anne Of Geierstein.
And he doesn't make it sound very nice.
England is torn and bleeding.
There are piles of slain bodies and quite a lot of drenching in blood.
To Walter Scott, the Wars of the Roses had too much brutality
and not enough chivalry to be a bestseller.
But what Walter Scott did do for the Wars of the Roses
was give it its name. Listen to this,
he talks about "the civil discords so dreadfully prosecuted
"in the wars of the White and Red Roses."
This is more than 300 years after the ending of the conflict
but this is the first time that anybody's called it that.
Most Victorians didn't question the well-established mythology of the
Wars of the Roses and they enjoyed a spot of Shakespeare
as much as their predecessors.
But 19th-century historians took a very dim view of the period.
Helen, we are sitting in the middle of a Victorian vision
of the Middle Ages, which they loved.
But they didn't much like the 15th century, did they?
They were very interested in the Middle Ages as a whole
but they saw the 15th century as something dark, corrupted,
an unhappy time.
Who were these Victorian historians writing about the Wars of the Roses?
The key figure is William Stubbs, Bishop William Stubbs.
He was a hugely influential figure
in the development of the discipline.
It was while he was Regius Professor at Oxford
that the first students began
to be able to take history as a degree subject there.
But he was also a clergyman.
He ended his life as Bishop of Oxford.
He could really turn a phrase, couldn't he, Mr Stubbs?
The 15th century in Stubbs' view goes something like this,
"The son of the Plantagenets went down in clouds and thick darkness.
"The coming of the Tudors gave as yet no promise of light,
"it was, as the morning spread upon the mountains,
"darkest before the dawn."
It sounds like Victorian historians were quite happy to pass judgment
on the past. Black and white, good and bad.
And not only not afraid to judge the past,
they saw it as part of their job.
For historians like Stubbs,
their Christianity was an intrinsic part
of what it meant to be a historian.
So they needed to look in the archives,
they needed to find out the information,
they were great scholars, but then they needed to stand back
to assess what they'd found and stand in judgment on it.
And their judgment had to take in
the moral dimensions of their worldview.
They were quite willing to say that certain actions, certain people,
and certain periods, were evil.
I'm thinking that he is typical of a type of historian that we call
That's a broad grouping, but what is this thing called wig history?
Really, when we talk about wig history,
we're talking about a view of history as progress.
As a movement towards the best of all possible worlds,
which is embodied in 19th-century society,
So Victorians see an onward march of progress
up to the Wars of the Roses, then it slips back.
And then it's up and up and up again
to the glorious perfection of Queen Victoria.
Progress isn't always quite that straightforward.
Obviously, there are lumps and bumps along the way.
But the 15th century seemed a pretty dark age,
when the country collapsed into civil war
and it seemed as though the forces of law
and the Enlightenment of constitutional progress were being
overwhelmed by over mighty subjects and aristocratic faction.
'Although Bishop Stubbs and his colleagues weren't writing for the
'mass market, their judgment on the Wars of the Roses as a great leap
'backwards, as an interruption to the march of progress,
'has proved extremely influential.'
Ah, now this is perhaps my favourite history book.
It's called 1066 And All That, A Memorable History Of England.
It's basically a spoof of those very self-confident Victorian historians
like Bishop Stubbs and his chums.
And like them, it's not afraid to make judgments about history.
Here's the 17th-century English Civil War, for example,
between the Cavaliers and the Roundheads.
The Cavaliers being "Wrong but Wromantic",
and the Roundheads, "Right but Repulsive".
What have they got to say about the Wars of the Roses?
Well, it was all because the Barons,
who "made a stupendous effort using
"sackage, carnage and wreckage
"so to stave off the Tudors for a time.
"They achieved this by a very clever plan
"known as the Wars of the Roses."
So just like the Victorian historians,
this book thinks that it was the fault of the bad barons.
Clearly, the whole thing is a joke, but minus the jokes,
and plus a few more dates,
this was pretty much how generations of school kids
were taught their history.
But no account of the Wars of the Roses
could ever hope to rival the remarkable staying power
of Shakespeare's drama.
In the 20th century, his Richard III made the leap from stage to screen.
March on, join bravely, let us to't pell-mell.
In 1955, Laurence Olivier, both directed and starred in Richard III.
He turned Shakespeare's story into a Technicolor spectacular and he
turned Richard III himself into the ultimate Hollywood villain.
Complete with prosthetic villainous nose.
Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer
by this sun of York.
Olivier delivers his scheming monologues straight down the camera,
eyeball to eyeball, he draws us into his murderous plots.
I can smile
and murder whiles I smile.
'He is both monstrous and magnetic.'
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears
and frame my face to all occasions...
This was the definitive Richard III for the 20th century.
Everybody else who played the part would be measured against Olivier.
In America, the film was shown on television
the same day that it opened in cinemas.
As many as 40 million people watched it.
That's more than the total number of people who'd seen it in theatres
over the whole 350 years since it was first performed.
40 years after Olivier,
Ian McKellen played Richard III as the greatest tyrant of them all,
Complete with murderous moustache.
Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer
by this sun of York.
This version of Richard III didn't make any connection
to the real events of the 15th century.
Shakespeare's plot was so well known
that it had become a sort of timeless parable.
Richard III had become the biggest baddie in history
and the Wars of the Roses symbolised a nation's darkest hour.
But a new and radically different tale of good King Richard was also
emerging, which turned Shakespeare's familiar story on its head.
The Richard III Society was founded
to counter what they saw as outrageous Tudor lies.
And to paint a much more flattering portrait of Richard.
Their Richard was a good lord
and a mighty prince
and he definitely didn't have a hunchback.
'Centuries after Richard's death, his supporters, the Ricardians,
'were determined to clear his name.'
The culmination of Richard's rehabilitation came in 2012
with the extraordinary discovery of his body,
here in this car park in Leicester.
After centuries of conjecture and half-truths and even downright lies,
here was some hard evidence for the real Richard.
Just five feet under the tarmac,
archaeologists made the remarkable find.
The Ricardians were delighted finally to lay eyes on their hero.
But even from a quick glance,
it was clear that this man did have
an abnormal curvature of the spine.
In a battle where opinions mattered more than facts,
Richard's physical imperfections
didn't shake the Ricardians' conviction.
In the Wars of the Roses, the wrong man had come out on top.
For them, the final twist in the tale is that Henry VII, not Richard,
was the true villain of the piece.
To the Ricardians,
the triumphant Tudor was nothing more than a ruthless usurper
who had slandered Richard's good name.
As Henry VII faced their wrath, his defenders rallied round.
In 2013, another royal fan club was born.
The Henry Tudor Society.
Nathan, what is this?
It's a small representation
of a statue that we are hoping to put up in Pembroke.
I feel that Henry Tudor is an overlooked monarch.
Since Richard III was dug up,
there's been a sort of rehabilitation of his reputation.
Do you think this means that, inevitably, Henry Tudor's gone down?
Unfortunately, yes, it does seem that way.
For one king to become unmaligned,
it seems that some feel that another has to become maligned.
So, how many members have you got?
Currently, there's 12,000 people on my Facebook page.
Wow! And how many has Richard III got, then? Shall we...?
Let's compare. Did you say you've got 12,000 likes?
12,358 as of today.
I hate to tell you this, Nathan, but Richard III has got 16,000.
-He is ahead of you. But not by much.
-Not by much.
We are hot on your tail, Richard.
And is there a sort of tension between the two societies?
How do you get on together? Not well, I imagine.
If you believe some things you read on Facebook, this man was a monster,
a usurper, a ruthless, evil king.
In my opinion, this was a king who was without doubt the cleverest man
to ever sit on the throne of England
and he was recognised throughout Europe as a generous family man.
The need to find a hero and a villain of the Wars of the Roses
remains as strong as ever.
In 2015, 530 years after his death on the battlefield of Bosworth,
Richard III was finally laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral,
in a tomb fit for a king.
Ironically, the discovery of Richard's curved spine
shows that what had seemed to be
the most outrageous piece of myth-making of all,
the hunchbacked king, was close to reality.
But fascinating though Richard's bones are,
they can't really tell us what sort of a man
or what sort of a king he was.
'Because history is more than a series of dates, facts and bones.
'It's a collection of stories
'and all stories reveal just as much about their authors as they do about
'the heroes and the villains they portray.'
While Richard has been laid to rest,
the story of the Wars of the Roses certainly hasn't.
'Next time, I'll be exploring the Glorious Revolution.
'Was it really glorious?
'And was it really a revolution?'
Lucy debunks the foundation myth of one of our favourite royal dynasties, the Tudors. According to the history books, after 30 years of bloody battles between the white-rosed Yorkists and the red-rosed Lancastrians, Henry Tudor rid us of civil war and the evil king Richard III. But Lucy reveals how the Tudors invented the story of the 'Wars of the Roses' after they came to power to justify their rule. She shows how Henry and his historians fabricated the scale of the conflict, forged Richard's monstrous persona and even conjured up the image of competing roses. When our greatest storyteller William Shakespeare got in on the act and added his own spin, Tudor fiction was cemented as historical fact. Taking the story right up to date, with the discovery of Richard III's bones in a Leicester car park, Lucy discovers how 15th-century fibs remain as compelling as they were over 500 years ago. As one colleague tells Lucy: 'Never believe an historian!