Richard III thumbshot
[At left: Richard III, in a portrait from a private collection. Original photo source.]
Word that Hobbit and Spooks star Richard Armitage has been involved in talks to star in, direct, or produce a new film on the complex life of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, has brought new life to a dusty guild in a neglected corner of England.
The group in question, The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Leicester Thumb Ring Outpost (WCGLTRO), lays claim to venerable origins shrouded indistinctly in the mists of time. (Some historians have questioned whether they were ever actually founded.) Chartered after 1327, the group — founded to control entry into the profession of thumb ring manufacture and provide hallmarks testifying to the quality and reliability of its members’ output — stood third in the precedence list among the Leicester guilds after 1401, when the thumb ring makers were able to establish the superior ancienneté of their charter to that of the Worshipful Company of Leicester Leather Feather Duster Makers (WCLLFDM) in a hotly contested court case that followed a dustup between the groups during the annual procession honoring the thumb reliquary of St Thomas Aquinas.
[At right: Traditional WCGLTRO insignia, with the Company's Latin motto: "pollex pollex pollex" or "thumb thumb thumb"]
Despite that victory, WCGLTRO has fallen on hard times in recent years. Indeed, no new apprentices have been admitted to the thumb ring makers’ association for more than a decade, a sad fact that threatens the continuity of the WCGLTRO leadership, as every year fewer freemen of the company remain available to elect the company’s liverymen. With the loss of liverymen comes the loss of influence and power. Four years ago, WCGLTRO even lost its customary control over the election of the Mayor and Sheriff of Leicester, leading to political disadvantage as the WCLLFDM were able to make good on six centuries of resentment by having the WCGLTRO guild hall demolished in order to permit the construction of a combination Sainsbury’s and Chapelle’s.
“They’re ruining the market,” complained WCGLTRO Company Clerk, Digitus Primus, with an unmistakeable tone of bitterness. “Chappelle’s management even said that they’d not stock a single thumb ring from any market, just in order to work to kill demand for our more quality product.” Chappelle’s publicist denied this allegation, but the WCLLFDM press secretary confirmed that WCLLFDM is supporting a Bill in Parliament to prohibit and severely punish the manufacture or sale of thumb rings in the UK and Commonwealth. The bill is said to be opposed by the Worshipful Company of Bowyers as bad for business and on principle by the Worshipful Company of Fletchers, which stopped regulating arrow production centuries ago. WCGLTRO never produced thumb rings for the archery market.
WCGLTRO’s problem is complicated by the twenty-seven year apprenticeship mandated in the Company’s statutes. Even if dozens of new apprentices were taken on tomorrow, Master of the Company Pollux Pollex concedes, under its current mandates, WCGLTRO would have difficulty putting together the necessary quorum to continue to elect its own leadership — let alone contest the local mayoral election with anything like a prospect of success. And its historical guild hall is already gone — almost as if it had never been there.
The news of Armitage’s project thus came like an energizing bolt out of the blue to the embattled and increasingly drowsy thumb ring liverymen. “Armitage’s interest in Richard III has the potential to reinvigorate this branch of the craft completely and permanently,” Primus explained. “In the fifteenth century, every man of consequence wore a thumb ring. If the lads see Armitage wearing a thumb ring, they’ll all want one!”
A writer for British Vogue declined to be quoted for comment on this assertion, but snorted as she hung up her mobile.
Art historical sources consulted in the writing of this article, however, confirmed independently that almost every extant portrait of the problematic Plantagenet includes a thumbshot with a ring on it. “Some of the thumbs shown in these portraits are very wanky,” admitted an art historian at Goldsmiths College, who is planning to publish a book entitled Thumbshots as an Aspect of Royal Authority in Late Medieval English Portraiture with Oxford University Press next year. He asked to remain anonymous until his book appears, as his work is vociferously contested by colleagues who love the fact that the surviving portraits of Richard III tend to suggest that the unfortunate royal lacked an MCP on the thumb. “In fact, we wouldn’t even necessarily know they were thumbs except for their position on the hand.” The historian refused to be drawn out on whether the jelly-like tentacle was an actual representation of the thumb, or a generic convention. “Wait till my book comes out!” he insisted, noting that he expected the work to be an instant bestseller.
But the matter seems settled to the impresarios who have the final say on the project, who say that the historical portraits depict an actual thumb, and that viewers expect to see this detail on screen whether or not it was accurate. “Richard III’s thumb wasn’t exactly sexy,” said a casting director for the film project, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, “and given the significance of that physical feature for an audience’s capacity to recognize Richard III on screen, that has been no small problem for us in finding an appropriate actor. Not many males have thumbs like that. But Richard III’s wiggly thumb is as important a detail in identifying him for the man in the street as are Henry VIII’s beard and prominent codpiece for characterizing the portly Tudor.” Sources that spoke only off the record have charged that this problem has significantly complicated Armitage’s attempts to claim the role of Richard III, because Armitage’s pronounced MCP calls attention to every place he moves that digit.
As a result of Armitage’s monumental thumb architecture, moreover, historical advisors have questioned the renowned thespian’s suitability for the role. “Armitage’s thumb signals masculinity and battlefield prowess to the uninformed viewer,” suggested one historian. “If people see Richard III played by Armitage, with that earth-shattering thumb, there’s a serious danger they might think Richard III should have won at Bosworth!” A revisionist camp within the field has even gone so far as to suggest — on the basis of the Richard III thumb controversy — that Richard III did win at Bosworth Field and Henry VII never became king of England. “Could a thumb like that have lost?” they ask, and not rhetorically. Such revisionists argue that William Shakespeare — who is alleged to have created an entire dynasty that never existed, convinced everyone in the world of it for centuries, and even managed to occupy three seasons of Showtime audiences’ time with sexy nonsense that has little to do with English history — thus has many more sins on his conscience in this regard than those of which we are already aware. This is, however, a minority view within the profession. Moreover, all of the Plantagenets who still claim to be actual kings and queens of England have been locked up since at least 1711. If it were true, however, new evidence about Richard III’s thumb would provide a significant impetus to cast Armitage in the long-desired role.
[At left: The thumb to inspire the careers of a thousand potential thumb ring makers and possible change the fate of WCGLTRO -- Richard Armitage outside of the Radio 1 studios, May 4, 2010. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com.]
Debates over the role that Shakespeare (and by extension, Thomas More) played in the mischaracterization of Richard III’s thumb that have influenced portraiture conventions and possibly accounts of the outcome of Bosworth alike for centuries will hopefully be resolved this year by an archaeological project under the supervision of the University of Leicester. This project seeks to locate the mortal remains of the misplaced monarch. If Richard III’s actual body were recovered, and his thumb were pronounced, whether or not the corpse was wearing a thumb ring, it would provide not only a further nail in the exploding coffin that holds the burgeoning evidence of Shakespeare’s calumny toward Richard III, it would also hasten Armitage’s casting as Richard III.
[At right: New heraldry for WCGLTRO? "semper pollex Ricardi" or "always Richard's thumb."]
Both Primus and Pollex can think of nothing better for their Company. “The man’s thumb is simply eloquent,” stuttered Pollex, and excused himself from the room to slow his breathing down. While his colleague was out of the room, Primus noted that the casting of Armitage’s thumb, with an appropriate thumb ring as costume, would not only rescue his Company’s waning fortunes, it would also potentially attract female apprentices to the Company. “This is controversial,” the Clerk of the Company noted, “since not all the members want females in the ranks. But it would allow us to contest charges that we are not in compliance with the Equality Act 2010, and the thought of getting to design thumb rings for that thumb might also attract an even more diverse membership.”
When Pollex returned to the room, he said, “If Armitage were to take on this role, we at WCGLTRO would be eternally grateful. I’m already designing a new coat of arms for the eventuality that this takes place.”
Armitage was said by his publicist to be unavailable for comment. His publicist noted, however, that it was a good sign that the members of the many pressure groups that had opposed his casting as Richard III on the basis of his facial hair last year had been silenced, imprisoned, committed to mental institutions indefinitely — or were so occupied in drooling over or snarling at pictures of Thorin Oakenshield that they had failed to follow the latest industry rumors.
Armitage’s path to playing the role thus seems potentially clearer than ever, something fangirls and thumb ring manufacturers can rejoice about together.
In unrelated news from Leicester police reports, an extremely old man was charged with criminal trespass earlier this morning for attempting to interfere with the archaeological excavation of Greyfriars Car Park, Leicester. Attention came to the trespass when a security guard noticed a number of thumb rings littering the dig, creating a trail that led him to the trespasser. The man was apprehended with pockets overflowing with thumb rings. At a press conference, a police spokesman explained that the man he was an unemployed archer who simply missed the demonstration of the medieval knights that took place there on Saturday.