Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"It's Him" - Poetry For Richard III

Violent death on the battlefield is still a part of life in 2013, and sadly, when it hits the headlines it tends to be either young soldiers or civilians. This week a man who died on the battlefield is in the headlines once again. This time, though, the death took place hundreds of years ago, and the man was a king.

In September 2012, historians, archaeologists and enthusiasts working on a dig in Leicester announced that they had found a skeleton, in the ruins of Greyfriars church, which might be that of Richard III. The skeleton showed signs of scoliosis and of battle injuries which matched contemporary descriptions of Richard and his fate. On Monday of this week, at a press conference, it was announced that the remains were thought "beyond reasonable doubt" to be Richard's. The identification was partly based on a DNA comparison with a Canadian who is a descendant of Richard's sister.

It is startling to have a story like this in the news, and to see the excitement it has generated. Some say that this could shed major light on our perceptions of Richard III; others say it will make no difference at all. Personally, my investment in Richard, his life and his fate have everything to do with Josephine Tey's great novel The Daughter of Time, in which a detective redeems him from the charge of having murdered the Princes in the Tower. The novel's historical validity is not accepted by everyone, but it certainly convinced me at a fairly young age. The fact that I very much want Richard to not have been the murderer of the Princes is probably a good indication that I should never be a historian; I'm not exactly free from emotional bias. Still, as fascinating as this discovery is, it's unlikely to definitively solve that old mystery. (However, nothing will ever induce me to like Thomas More, who did a later hatchet job on Richard's reputation, and who was also an enemy of William Tyndale.)

I have written a poem for Richard III and for the reactions the discovery has inspired, and here it is.


-On the identification of Richard III's remains in Leicester, February 2013

That morning, words fell in flurries.
"It's him." A friend's text message,
headlines of here and now: "It's him."
Murmurs, flickers in the crowd. Cheers,
as though they glimpsed one still alive.
The king is dead, long dead, but lives.

Five hundred years and more.
Footfalls, hoofbeats, hum of cars
masked the quiet tick of bones in earth.
Now, noise and light, and the king's face,
but the king is dead. Only the eyeless skull,
the smooth curve of the spine's river.

Who would not try to speak
for the voiceless dead? We strain
to hear words on the thin pained lips,
to see light in the painted eyes.
We try to hold the fragments. But time forbids,
expectant mother, secret-keeper still.

Poem © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013.


  1. I love this phrase especially: 'the quiet tick of bones in earth'. The whole poem is lovely.

    1. Thank you! I wanted to convey something of the contrast between the hubbub of the modern world and the silence in which he lay unnoticed for hundreds of years. And the passage of time, of course...