If there was ever an individual in need of PR it was Richard III. Portrayed as an evil, grotesquely deformed, murderer of young princes, the controversy surrounding the last Yorkist monarch of England has endured to the present day.
Even the identification of the bones discovered in Leicester’s Greyfriars Car Park as those of the King did nothing to silence the speculation with the confirmation of a significant curvature of the spine and a delicate bone structure adding further gravitas to an already infamous persona.
In life, many had referred to him as ‘Good King Richard’, however, in death history has not been quite so kind, arguably due in part to the extraordinarily successful negative PR ‘spin’ initiated by the Tudors.
‘Spin’ may be a dirty word in the world of PR but what is certain is that the management of reputation is the foundation on which the profession is built. A planned, sustained effort of activity is the route to PR success and the Tudors demonstrated a vast array of skills in this area.
Demonising Richard after his defeat at Bosworth, the Tudors set about tarnishing his name quickly and effectively by riding the wave of public opinion and recruiting the help of popular influencers of the day.
The major media of the day were also engaged with even Shakespeare drawing from the hostile writings of the Elizabethan court to portray Richard as a limping, “poisonous bunch-backed toad” with a withered arm.
According to experts studying the skeleton, the ‘hunch-back’ description was an exaggeration and they confirmed that the disfigurement would have almost certainly been undetectable when Richard was clothed and that the a limp and withered arm were an invention.
Even artists of the era contributed to the propaganda. X-ray examinations of portraits of the King revealed that the paintings had been altered significantly to deform a previously normal shoulder line and subtly extend the chin and nose to create a wicked countenance.
And so the transformation of Richard from ‘good king’ to villainous caricature was complete with publications down the ages reinforcing the negative image and perpetuating the tarnished reputation.
Although there is no possible way of knowing the truth and the disappearance of the young princes certainly can’t be denied, it’s no wonder that Richard III was the last of the Plantagenets – it appears that the Tudors were just far better PR practitioners.