02 APRIL 2015

What Do We Know About King Richard III?

What Do We Know About King Richard III?

The reburial of King Richard III led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was held on Thursday 26 March. Many people have flocked to visit his coffin in Leicester Cathedral in the UK. You might ask why the hype? Why are so many interested in the last Plantagenet King who ruled England for only two years? He was the last King to go into battle, and often his death is understood as marking the end of the Middle Ages, but he is a controversial figure, and Tudor propaganda and a Shakespearian perspective would point to a sinister and tyrannical figure. So what do we know about King Richard III and why has he captured the imagination?

There are historical facts and there are historical interpretations.

-  Historical fact: The battle of Bosworth Field took place on 22 August 1485 and saw the defeat of the Richard III, and the victory of Henry VII, marking the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.
-  Historical interpretation: Richard III was a bad King, responsible for the death of his two nephews, the sons of his late brother, Edward IV.

The Richard III Society would have you believe that the negative view of Richard; the hunch-backed uncle who murdered his nephews, was Tudor propaganda and spin, compounded by Shakespeare’s depiction of him in the play Richard III.

Why does this matter and where are the TOK knowledge questions? If we take the real life situation below it’s full of TOK knowledge questions and ripe for TOK analysis. The following example could be used as the basis for a TOK presentation.

-  Real life example: the controversy about where the remains alleged to be those of Richard III should be buried and the legal ruling that the remains were to be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday 26 March.

On 5 September 2012 a skeleton was excavated from a car park in Leicester, the site of the Greyfriars Friary, believed to be where the remains of Richard III were buried. A combination of scientific tests and historical interpretation has led some people to the conclusion that these are the remains of King Richard III.

General questions:

1. What do historians know about Richard from history? What are the facts, and what are the different interpretations?
2. Was he a good or a bad king? How do we know and what evidence would we draw on to support both views?
3. What scientific tests have been used on the remains found? How has an interdisciplinary approach led to reliable knowledge?
4. What is an appropriate place and an appropriate ceremony for the re-burial of the remains?
5. What does the Richard III Society believe about Richard and why? http://www.richardiii.net/whats_new.php 

Knowledge questions:

1. To what extent do history and science offer a reliable method for gaining knowledge?
2. To what extent does knowledge in history and science depend on facts and interpretations?
3. To what extent is our knowledge in history and science certain, beyond reasonable doubt?

For more on how the body was discovered and what research has been done on it, see the Channel 4 on demand programme ‘Richard III: King in the car park’.

Further links




Wendy Heydorn is co-author of Decoding TOK for the IB Diploma

Twitter @theoryknowledge

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