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Opinion split on Richard reputation

Few monarchs in history have been so vilified and scrutinised as King Richard III.

For centuries historians have put forward varying cases as to whether he should be remembered as a visionary reformer and brilliant administrator, or as an ambitious usurper and ruthless murderer.

The monarch is famous today for his death at the Battle of Bosworth, which effectively ended the Wars of the Roses - as well as the disappearance of his young nephews, and his derisory portrayal in William Shakespeare's play The Tragedy Of King Richard III.

But his reputation is surrounded by apparent myths and half-truths.

Described as "deformed" and "unfinish'd", jealous, and ambitious hunchback in Shakespeare's play, which was first performed in the 1590s, it is difficult to know if the man the playwright said battled on foot and cried out "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!", is a true reflection of the king, or merely an act of creative dramatics.

These days loyal Ricardians battle to repair Richard's reputation but the traditional view is that Richard, while not as evil as Tudor historians said, was probably responsible for removing his nephews from the royal line.

Under a page headed "Loyal to the truth" on The Richard III Foundation's website is an extract that reads: "King Richard III is one of England's most controversial historical figures often associated with his quest to seize the throne of England.

"The prime sources of defamation of Richard are superstitious fiction, although this was not understood by some for centuries.

"The vilification may be absurd, such as two years in the womb, magically withered arms, and the murder of innocent babies, but it is repeated ad nauseum.

"It may take the form of ghosts passionately listing the wrongs of an evil king, regardless of their own dwelling in hell.

"Or it can take on a more sinister nature, such as what happened to Edward V, a query that moderns cannot positively answer.

"By blaming Richard for everything, (Henry) Tudor escaped blame for anything for two hundred years, until people were at last free to pose questions.

"Although it is obvious that Tudor had overwhelming motivation to spread malicious gossip and to smear a dead man, some cannot let go of even the most outrageous slurs."

The view from the Tudor side, differs somewhat.

Historian Suzannah Lipscomb wrote in a BBC online article: "It is not surprising that for centuries Richard III has been synonymous with evil tyranny and physical deformity.

"To argue otherwise has been to take on three of history's greats - Sir Thomas More, William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, all of whom argued that Richard had been a man with a crooked back and a crooked life."

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