Middle Ages in the News: Richard III and Hildegard of Bingen

A short post in honor of two recent news items:

Richard III Found?

In September, archaeologists might have uncovered the body of Richard III (1452-85) under a Leicester car park. The skeleton has the tell-tale head trauma as well as the spinal abnormalities associated with descriptions of the king. I never hear something like this without a little shiver of excitement. I can’t even imagine the emotion at the moment of such a discovery. It’s Howard Carter at the tomb of Tutankhamun (cursed or not). Bouchard and the Rosetta Stone. The Xi’an farmers and the Terracotta Army. Terry Herbert, his metal detector, and the Staffordshire Hoard. To uncover that type of history, to change our understanding of history. There is no word to describe it. Granted, we do not have evidence to prove whether this skeleton really is Richard III yet. Still, the imagination cannot help but hope. What can we learn? Perhaps historic forensics can tell us about his last moments before he was killed. Perhaps study of the body can reveal the true nature of his physical ailments, a discovery that is of great interest to those like myself working in the field of disability studies. Shakespeare has given us an image of Richard III as ill-formed in body as well as in character. This description has been set at the feet of Thomas More, who seems likely to have been, as Emyr Wyn Jones states, “directly involved in the retrospective Tudor propaganda directed against the last of the Plantagenets.”1 Maybe this will be one of those perfect intersections of science, history, and literature when each will inform the other and create a multi-disciplinary window for viewing the past.

Hildegard of Bingen Named Doctor of the Church

After being officially named a saint earlier this year, Hildegard of Bingen has now been named a Doctor of the Church, only the fourth woman to be so named of, now, thirty-five other Doctors, all given the title for their contributions to the Church, particularly in matters of doctrine. Hildegard is rather an amazing woman. I learned of her when I was quite young through her music. If you have not listened to her work, I recommend remedying that immediately. Check it out here. No matter your stance on chants, it is an experience. As a side note, like Richard III, she provides another interesting opportunity for science, history, and theology to meet. As a mystic, Hildegard is known for the visions she experienced, which greatly shaped and influenced her beliefs and which she shared with others. There has been much discussion, based on her descriptions of her experiences, that has suggested she might have suffered from migraines. Thus, another figure of interest to those studying medieval illness. For more information on Hildegard, see Fordham’s The Life and Works of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).

Emyr Wyn Jones, “Richard III’s Disfigurement: A Medical Postscript,” Folklore 91.2 (1980): 211 (211-27)

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Filed under History, Mystics, News

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