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Discontented no more

Discontented no more

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As an officer of the Richard III Society, Corvallis man savors fresh take on libeled English king

Jonathan Hayes has a poleaxe in his study.

“It’s fully functional,” he asserts, pointing out the keen half-moon blade, the long spike at the end, and the wickedly curved hook for pulling an armored knight off his horse.

The axe is one of several medieval weapons on display in the comfortable book-lined room, where Hayes also keeps a mace, a war hammer and a broadsword. They’re mementoes of his deep and abiding interest in British history — specifically the life and times of Richard III, who died at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Hayes is the chairman of the American branch of the Richard III Society, a learned organization devoted to unearthing the truth about a ruler who has not been treated kindly by history.

“I think he’s gotten a raw deal,” Hayes said.

“He wasn’t perfect at all, but he did a lot of good things, and they deserve to be remembered.”

Richard, the last English king to die in battle, was only on the throne for a few years, Hayes said, yet he instituted a number of reforms to the British legal system, including making English — not Norman French — the language of the courts.

But his Yorkist party was on the losing end of the Wars of the Roses. With the winning Lancastrians in control of the history books, Richard’s reputation suffered badly. He is generally described as a hideous hunchback, an immoral schemer who conspired to murder his own nephews in order to seize the crown.

Shakespeare took full advantage of this popular image in “The Tragedy of Richard the Third.” In the famous “winter of our discontent” speech that begins the play, Richard describes himself as “deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up, and that so lamely and unfashionable that dogs bark at me as I halt by them.”

Now, more than five centuries after his death, Richard’s evil reputation is getting a serious reappraisal. With funding from the Richard III Society, archaeologists recently excavated the king’s final resting place, in the ruins of a medieval church buried beneath a parking lot in the modern city of Leicester.

Using the latest techniques of radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis, researchers were able to confirm almost beyond doubt that the remains found in the grave indeed are Richard’s.

The result is a wealth of new information about Richard that confirms some parts of the popular legend while refuting others.

An analysis of the skeleton, for instance, shows that although he was not a hunchback, Richard did have scoliosis — a pronounced curvature of the spine. On the other hand, a facial reconstruction demonstrates that he was far from ugly.

Hayes flew to England for a March 2 conference on the latest Ricardian discoveries, and he says the recently completed reconstruction caused quite a stir.

“A lot of the ladies were saying, ‘Oh, my, he was quite a handsome man,’” he said.

He also attended a rose-laying ceremony at Bosworth Field to honor the memory of the much-maligned King Richard. For Hayes, it was a stirring experience.

“It’s only about two years ago that they found the actual site of the Battle of Bosworth. The traditional site was off by several miles,” he said. “And now his actual grave has been discovered. So you really have the feeling that there’s an awful lot of historical knowledge that’s happening right at once, and it’s happening at a time when I have a chance to be a part of it — and that’s really quite exciting.”

It’s almost enough to make the triumphant opening lines of Shakespeare’s play seem prophetic rather than ironic:

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York,” Richard says before his tragic downfall, “and all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”

Jonathan Hayes

AGE: 70

RESIDENCE: Corvallis

FAMILY: Married to Susan Hayes

OCCUPATION: Retired executive director of Washington Economic Development Finance Authority

MILITARY SERVICE: Captain, U.S. Air Force, retired; flew F-4 Phantom fighter jets in Vietnam War; received Distinguished Flying Cross with four oakleaf clusters

AFFILIATIONS: Chairman, American branch, Richard III Society; president-elect, Military Officers Club of Corvallis

ETC.: Prolific writer of letters to the editor; has been published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Seattle Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times of London

Got an idea for a “Story Next Door” profile? E-mail your suggestions to news@gtconnect.com, with “Story Next Door” in the subject line.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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