Created on: October 29, 2011 Last Updated: January 06, 2012
The Richard III Society began life as 'The Fellowship of the White Boar' in 1924, when amateur Liverpool historian Saxton Barton and a group of friends decided that Richard III had enjoyed a bad press for too long. The group had little real impact or prominence until the 1950s, when Josephine Tey's crime novel, 'The Daughter of Time' rekindled interest in Shakespeare's much maligned king.
Later in the 1950s, Laurence Olivier's film adaptation of Shakespeare's play, and a biography by Paul Murray Kendall took a more sympathetic view of Richard, and membership of the society increased dramatically. The major aim of the Society is reputation management - a modern business concept which is being used to counteract the 'Shakespeare Effect' on history's opinion of Richard. Members of the Society are known as Ricardians.
Shakespeare used historical sources such as Sir Thomas More and Raphael Holinshed for the basis of the characters in 'Richard III.' History is, of course, written by the winners - in this case, the Tudors - so Richard was presented as an illegal usurper of the throne, who would do anything to retain power. Shakespeare's dramatic embellishment presents the king as something of a pantomime villain, who revels in his evil doing, and the play was and still is extremely popular, so it's easy to see how the 'Mad, bad' image of Richard was disseminated.
In 1974, the Society began to put its defence of Richard's reputation on a formal, learned basis - it has no desire to be seen as a 'Richard III Fan Club' who will hear nothing bad about the object of devotion. The publication of 'The Ricardian' journal established a framework of scholarly articles based on primary sources which counteracted many of the traditional views of Richard's character. In 1981, the first Richard III Society Conference took place at Oxford University, and these continue to occur every three years.
1980 was an important year for the Richard III Society. Richard, Duke of Gloucester became its patron, establishing a unique parallel with Richard III, whose title before he became King was Duke of Gloucester. The Society's royal patron is the first Duke of Gloucester to bear the name Richard for 500 years, and he is a committed and enthusiastic Ricardian.
In 1984, the ground-breaking Channel 4 programme, 'The Trial of Richard III' did more than anything to restore Richard's reputation. The programme made compelling viewing - it was a reconstruction of a modern trial at the Old Bailey, with Ricardians Jeremy Potter and Anne Moore acting as witnesses for the defence. Historian David Starkey was one of the witnesses for the prosecution.
The Duke of Gloucester introduced the programme, making the relevant point that the year - 1984 - was also the title of George Orwell's most famous novel, in which he highlighted the control of information. This control did not only influence the present and the future, it was also used to change the perception of the past. Was this what the Tudors did to Richard III? The jury evidently thought so, because the King was found 'Not Guilty.'
The Richard III Society has an extensive programme of educational resources, including publications, study weekends, lectures and education packs for Year 7 schoolchildren. It also hosts a number of events, all of which celebrate and enlarge upon the life of Richard III - the good king with the bad reputation. Thanks to the Society, the truth is finally emerging about this volatile and colourful period of English history.
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