Richard III and the discovery of his skeleton underneath a carpark in Leicester has sparked the imagination of not only this country but the whole world. I would like to add my fourpenceworth. As an undergraduate of Leicester University c1980, I attended a couple of History Society meetings which sparked a love affair with the shadowy figure of Richard III who had been given a bad press by the Tudors who usurped his throne. Their chief mouthpiece was of course Shakespeare, and his history play remains a hot ticket in the West End today especially when Mark Rylance, or on film Sir Laurence Oliver is playing the much maligned ‘villain’ to the gallery. This play was written to please Queen Elizabeth and paints the short reigning last Plantaganet to be very black indeed. His ‘evilness’ is enhanced by the mystery of the disappearance of the Princes in the tower – his nephews who were a threat to his throne. England at the time had been struggling for 100 years, tossing the crown back and forth between the houses of York and Lancaster, and Richard was Commander of the North and hugely respected and indeed loved as a fair statesman and soldier before and during his brief reign. During the three years I spent in Leicester locals believed that the body of the King had been thrown in the river.
The lecture that inspired me was given by D.T. Williams, a history lecturer from my alma mater and he was speaking about his Leicester University Press publication ‘The Battle of Bosworth’ (1975) and I am fairly sure that it was this lecturer who pointed out that the local council had got Bosworth Field – the site of the battle, in the wrong place. I also saw a play in Leicester around this time, about Richard’s thoughts on the eve of the battle (can’t remember the title – possibly ‘Bosworth’- or the playwright) but I felt very strongly that the last English king to die on the battlefield had always been given a bad press and that someone should put the record straight about him – why should physical appearance (in this case, a hunched back) personify wickedness? Of course people were already rallying to his battle standard and I discovered the existence of The Richard the Third Society which I duly joined and even cross stitched a portrait of him which still hangs with pride at home. My membership has sadly lapsed but my passion hasn’t.
How ironic then, that it was the University of Leicester archaeology department who not only excavated the skeleton but ran the carbon dating and DNA testing which proved beyond doubt that this is indeed the great man himself.
Last nights Channel 4 documentary ‘The King in the Car Park’ was a superb insight into one woman’s (sadly not me) mission to find Richard and give him a decent burial. Not sure that I believe all that stuff about the R painted on the carpark as being the exact location of the skeleton but hey ho it makes a good story. Now the row begins as to where he should be properly laid to rest…Leicester Cathedral; his beloved York Minster or Westminster Abbey? It should be a proper state burial that’s for sure. Watch this space….