a performance of Richard IIIOne of the most fascinating stories to come out in the news recently””at least to me””was that of the discovery of Richard III’s remains. Even if you didn’t pay attention to the story, you probably remember hearing about it; that his remains were found under what is now a parking lot.

It caused quite a stir, not just among Ricardians, who are apparently represented by a few major societies (the Richard III Society is one), but among the populace at large. This is understandable. After all, how often do the real, acknowledged remains of a mediaeval king come to light? And not just any old king, but one who remains a controversial figure to this day.

The two faces of Richard III

If you think of Richard III””which you probably don’t, but if you do””you probably think of him as a villain. A king who was power-hungry and vile, who allegedly murdered his own nephews, and who was generally a royal … word-beginning-with-D-that-rhymes-with-“swoosh-bag.”

This is a portrait that has been painted for centuries, starting off with some contemporary historians. A while later, my recently referenced and favorite Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, added fuel to the fire by exaggerating these stories when he dramatized Richard III’s reign.

Because of this portrait that is so all pervasive, most of us don’t know that King R. also did some pretty decent things. While looking him up (because I’m not a historian, nor a Ricardian), some of what I found out, and that appears consistent over various sources, includes:

I actually have a point here. And it is this:

It’s been almost five and a half centuries since Richard III lived, ruled, and died. Yet people are still arguing about him, and whether he was, basically, a good guy or a bad guy.

To a large extent, the prevailing view of him as a D-bag exists because of an enthralling play””an acknowledged piece of fiction””that was written more than 100 years after he died.

And while Ricardians are trying””and will continue to try””to undertake a rather large reputation management project, you can bet that that will take a long time… if it even works.

Writing our own histories

As individuals and businesses in the digital age, we have an advantage that Richard didn’t. Thanks to the magic of the Internet and self-publishing, we are given an opportunity, every day, to write””or rewrite””our stories. Through smart listening, we can correct inaccuracies, and by virtue of generating consistently strong content, our words and, maybe, deeds, could live on long after we’re gone.

The digital age has given us an incredible opportunity to shape our own reputations. Let’s make sure to do so ethically… but let’s not waste it.

Image: Huntington Theatre Company via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke