It was Richard II’s birthday at Epiphany but it will also be the anniversary of his murder on St Valentine’s Day.
He is believed to have been murdered by his ambitious cousin Henry Bolingbroke, one-time Duke of Lancaster, the usurper Henry IV. King Richard’s body was carried out of Pontefract Castle at night in a wooden coffin. When it reached London it was displayed before 20,000 people who came to pay their respects – or to see for themselves whether it really was King Richard, ‘the golden boy.’
For this reason, and to put an end to the hopes of anybody thinking of over-turning Henry IV’s grab for power, his face was open to the public gaze. It was said to have been serene in death. And yet, the rest of his body had a lead lining hammered over it. Was this to conceal the wounds that had been inflicted? Only by exhuming the body from its tomb in Westminster Abbey where it lies next to his beloved wife Anne of Bohemia will we ever know the truth.
DNA might also put to rest the rumour that, in fact, it is not King Richard at all, but a look-alike priest called Maskelyne who was murdered earlier. Richard, the story goes, escaped to Scotland where the king there gave him a small annuity until 1419 when it stopped, presumaably because Richard had then died of natural causes.
Is this true?
Can we ever know?
At least we would know if his DNA matched that of the other Plantagenets. Or would we? Maskelyne himself was said to be an illegitimate son of the Black Prince, Richard’s father.
Mystery on mystery.
This is why history is so fascinating. A few answers, though, would help me sleep better at night.
What do you think the truth is?