Richard III discovered at last


Richard III, unknown artist. Photo: National Portrait Gallery, London.

It’s him! It’s Richard III!

Like millions of history fans all over the globe, I just tuned in to the BBC News for the live press conference from the University of Leicester where they were expected to confirm whether the remains discovered on a dig at the site of the Grey Friars Monastery were indeed those of the last Plantagenet King, Richard III.

It was UNBELIEVABLY exciting watching it all unfold both live on television (and on the live internet feed when the news cut away to BORING POLITICAL STUFF THAT NO ONE CARES ABOUT) and also on Twitter, where I think unprecedented amounts of people were watching and waiting to find out the result, even people that I had no idea were even slightly interested in history.

I got really weepy at a couple of points – seeing SO MANY people talking about history really made up for all the years I spent at school being bullied for being a ‘history geek’ with ‘boring’ and ‘weird’ interests. It really made all the years I’ve spent reading and studying and thinking and discussing history feel completely worthwhile because, really, when it is done properly there is nothing quite like a common shared interest in history for bringing people together.

No really, there isn’t. Let’s ignore last night’s Super Bowl as this is clearly far better. No really, it IS.

The BIG REVEAL at this morning’s press conference.

There was talk at the conference about the DNA and genealogical work they did on the remains and Richard’s closest living relatives, the descendants of his sister Anne. They mentioned the line of descent from John of Gaunt and I had to laugh because like millions of other people, I too am a direct descendant of John of Gaunt (via his son John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset) and it never really feels all that special because, well, so is everyone else. However, for a brief instant, while watching the conference and seeing the mounting excitement of the scientists and everyone watching them, I felt really privileged to be a part of such a richly fascinating and HUGE extended family. It made the history of this nation, which we ALL share, feel even closer to all of us.

I felt privileged too to be able to watch the drama of the press conference unfold and to be around on such an auspicious day. For me, history has never been about revering the dead but about trying to bring the past back to life and seeing the amazement and excitement surrounding today’s announcement (I cried, the press applauded, Twitter erupted into celebration) made me optimistic that the common perception of history as a dry, boring subject and the exclusive preserve of the tedious is completely wide of the mark.

Of course it isn’t always like an episode of CSI: Plantagenet but I believe there’s a piece of history, something that will excite and interest, for everyone.

The remains discovered in the car park site in Leicester, clearly showing scoliosis of the spine and slightness of his physique. If he hadn’t had scoliosis, he would have been around 5’8″ so unusually tall for the era, like his brother Edward IV. Sadly his feet were missing when they found him.

People complained a bit about the length of the conference, but as someone who studied Archaeology and History as well as History of Art at university, I found it fascinating to see the final burial spot of the body, see the remains and also see the extremely harrowing and gruesome wounds on his body. Although the discovery of his remains actually doesn’t do much to rehabilitate Richard III’s rather tarnished reputation (and I’m not sure what would besides DNA proving the bones found in the Tower weren’t his nephews and a signed confession from Henry VII baldly stating that ‘It’s a fair cop, guv’nor, I done them in‘ and let’s not even get started on the not quite so good stuff that we know for a fact that he did), I’m sure anyone would agree that no one deserves to die in such a brutal and undignified way and then to have their body treated so shabbily afterwards.

It’s been announced that the remains will definitely be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral and although I personally think that York Minster would have been a choice that was closer to Richard III’s Yorkist heart, it can’t be denied that the Grey Friars monks of Leicester treated his remains well and buried him with as much honour as they were able to muster and so perhaps he will stay in the best place after all. Even though I loathe Leicester, I think I’ll be making the trip up there at some point to pay my respects.

The skull of Richard III, with glimpses of the terrible trauma received around the time of his death, which included a large chunk at the back that was swiped off, presumably by a halberd.

(There’s an hour and a half long documentary on Channel 4 tonight about the discovery of the remains and the process of identifying them, which will include a facial reconstruction of what they think he may have looked like. I honestly can’t wait to see this. Will he be the handsome Sweet Dickon of historical fiction imagining or something quite different? We’ll have to wait and see!)

ps. I had to laugh a bit at a confused person on Twitter asking ‘But how did they manage to lose him?’ when being told that all the unusual excitement was about ‘Richard III being found’. How indeed?

pps. If any of my blog posts deserves the ‘posh doom’ tag it is this one.


16 thoughts on “Richard III discovered at last

  • Mary at Keynko

    I was glued to the screen for the whole time! Is that how other people feel about the X factor results?

    As such a huge character from our history, I felt quite honoured to have seen it unfold live! Already planning a trip to the exhibition and cathedral as soon as poss!

  • Little Me

    To those who thought it went on too long (ha! Not long enough actually) the reason is that if they had just turned up at 10, and said yes, it’s him, the cameras would have switched off and that would have been the end of it. As it was they switched over to yet another lying politician (plus ca change) . So the fact it was what, 40 minutes before they did the big reveal means that loads of people will have learned all kinds of things they didn’t know this morning. And that, surely, can only be a good thing.

  • Lucie

    I am super excited by this because really the Plantagenets dont get the exposure they deserve as Britains largest ruling Dynasty. although they will have to change the horrible histories song about his back.

  • Beate Swanson

    Amazing. Quite wonderful. And I hope that now they are able – somehow – to figure out that he was really not that monster that Shakespeare made immortal. I truly don’t believe he was all that bad. (On the other hand I really want to know what happened to the two boys in the tower!!!) Any theories?
    Keep blogging, it always makes my day!

  • Terri Strong

    If they do show a facial reconstruction could you show it please? I live over the pond and don’t have access to your documentaries and things. :(

  • tsarinat@gmail.com

    SO EXCITED!!!! Dying to see the reconstruction!! Will he be as sexy as Olivier?? (Sorry! But that is what I’m wondering!)Am I incorrect in remembering that the skeletal remains of two children were found in the tower and then reburied in the 20th century?? You mention DNA testing…Why aren’t they testing the skeletons of the children now?? Anyone know about this???

  • Lexi

    OMG also so excited! The Plantagenets are so interesting and I also studied Richard III (the play) at A Level, so I’ve been on tenterhooks since they annouced they were excavating! So fantastic to see this on prime time news!

  • KatWillow

    If, after King Edward died, Richard had done nothing, allowing the Queen’s Woodville family to rampage about, stealing the Treasury (they did) and lord knows what else, he’d have been dead within a year. They hated him.

    Unless he didn’t mind being destroyed, assassinated, he had to act fast, and ruthlessly. I’d like to think he didn’t have the Princes killed, but maybe it was Him or Them. And he did think they were illegitimate.

    • Melanie Post author

      Oh absolutely! He was no angel but compared to Henry VIII, he was practically saintly. I find it intriguing that he gets such a bad press about something he MAY have done (and I don’t personally think that he offed his nephews) compared to the stuff that we know for a fact the likes of Henry VIII and King John etc actually did and yet they don’t seem to be nearly so reviled. :(

  • Christine B

    I was so excited to hear the results from their research! How lucky are we that in our lifetime that such research was available to ID the remains? Such a find!

  • Edie

    The news has made my day! I’m envious of you all in Britain being able to see the special…all I’ll get on TV are more re-hashing of the Super Bowl…sigh…

  • The Narrator

    The press conference was excellent – scholarly, rigorous and thorough. Excuse the pun but no bone was left unturned. I was riveted to it and will be mesmerised later when the Channel 4 programme is on.

    The British Library has in its possession a genealogical tree of Richard III written in c1511 by his nemeses, the Tudors – on the manuscript it says ‘[Richard] lyth buryed at leator [Leicester]‘ He really did – the Tudors got that correct about him!

    http://www.essexvoicespast.com/richard-iii/

  • Brian

    The most maligned King in our history, for mine Elizabeth was the only good Tudor. The Tudor propaganda machine put the Third Reich machine to shame.
    A full proper burial worthy of a good king slain by a usurper is warranted but he will be denied even that.
    The bones of Henry VII should be disinterred and re-interred in a disused mineshaft in Wales.
    You may gather from this that I am a Plantagenet at heart

  • Sue B

    Posh Doom is the best Doom! Thanks, Mde Guillotine, for your thoughtful commentary on all this. I’ve been following as best as I could from the other side of the Pond since they started digging up the car park. It IS important, though maybe not in the greater scheme of things—certainly a part of the Anglo-American cultural history. That said, I love the bit about “CSI: Plantagenet.” !!

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