We might have thought that the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III, beneath a car park in Leicester in 2013, would have ended once and for all the debate about possibly the most controversial of our monarchs. But in truth, “final” answers have bred more questions.
Once the remains were subjected to the most stringent scientific analysis, using the most modern techniques available, we were able to learn a great deal, not just about the manner of Richard’s death but also such minutiae as what he ate in the last few years of his life. They have even revealed that, suffering from scoliosis, he did indeed have a curvature of the spine. Dry bones, however, can only tell us so much and, rather than narrowing the debate, they seem to have widened it (If Richard had scoliosis, does that prove he was the ‘crookback’ vilified by the Tudors and portrayed as such by Shakespeare? And, if so, can we conclude that his mind was as warped as his backbone?).
Leicester’s new Richard III Visitor Centre (https://kriii.com) has opened in the building adjacent to the excavations and incorporates the burial site. It is a fascinating place to visit if you get the chance. Viewing the grave, now encased under a sheet of glass, it becomes evident just how close it was to being obliterated forever; the foundations of a Victorian wall are just a few centimetres away from where the skeleton was found and, even then, no feet were recovered. We are, therefore, incredibly fortunate that it existed at all. The excavations were endorsed and aided by the staff at Leicester University (https://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii) and motivated by the meticulous research of the Richard III Society; in particular, through the vision of one woman Philippa Langley. There is a Channel 4 documentary which follows the process, http://www.channel4.com/programmes/richard-iii-the-king-in-the-car-park/on-demand ,which is well worth a watch.
The rediscovery and reinternment of Richard III has been of immense value to students of history, not least because it has underlined the fact that there can be no neat endings. Instead, we need to appreciate that even such an important historical discovery is nothing more than a single link in an unpredictable series of events, although it is also part of a very enjoyable, if elusive search for the truth.