When the University of Leicester held a press conference last Wednesday morning to announce a new phase in the archaeological dig for Richard III, I experienced an unexpected thrill when it transpired that the remains of an adult male had been discovered in what would have been the choir of Greyfriars Church in my hometown, Leicester.
My delight was even more profound when preliminary examinations of the remains showed signs of spinal abnormality but, crucially, no indication of a hunched back; much to the joy of the Richard III Society, no doubt.
While I am fully aware that my excitement is premature, I can’t help feeling a little closer to old Dick. After all, his body has potentially been forgotten about for centuries and, with it, his true character.
When I played the Horrible Histories’ pseudo pop tribute to Richard III for a visiting group from the University of Bonn as a post-lecture treat, as well as storms of giggles, there was an overwhelming consciousness of the unreliability of historical record.
The point is that we can’t help but feel a little curious about Richard III; and with the curiosity comes a degree of embarrassment. For, after all, it is no conscience-friendly matter to destroy a man’s posthumous reputation. So is the dig a way of clearing some kind of collective conscience?
At the press conference, medieval scholars and archaeologists were discussing the importance of the find and the possibility of discovering a DNA match between the remains and the blood descendants of the ill-fated king. If there is a match and it transpires that Richard had a pretty decent bone structure, no palpable deformity and took a nasty blow to the skull before his death at Bosworth, then what exactly will that mean? As one of the scholars at the press conference pointed out, archaeology cannot reveal the character of the person to whom the remains belong, all it can do is, potentially, tell us about the physical condition of that person, and perhaps provide more information about the cause of death and the kind of burial he received.
The dig for Richard is attracting much worthy attention. Over a series of blogs I’ll be considering the impact of this revived interest in and possible discovery of the last Plantagenet king on the general response to Richard III, as well as the potential implications this may have on Shakespeare’s play.
Are you excited about the dig and the new discovery? Do you think that Richard III’s reputation has been unjustly maligned? Please join the debate by leaving your comments below.