Friday, 27 March 2015

BURYING THE 'CAR PARK KING': RICHARD III

WALK OF FAME

BY: KATHRYN METHOT

The famous king found buried under a parking lot has finally been laid to rest. On March 26th King Richard III's body was reinterred at Leicester Cathedral. The Cathedral was transformed for the occasion, decorated with white roses and emblems of the Plantagenet dynasty, from which Richard was the last king.

Richard had been killed during the War of the Roses in the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22nd 1485. For many years there was a popular myth that the body of the King had been thrown into the River Soar. However, he had been given a burial in makeshift grave at the Grey Friars Church in Leicester. Richard's unassuming tomb was lost after the church was demolished during the Reformation.

A portrait of Richard III by an unknown 16th century painter. This image was not made during his lifetime but was likely based off of portraits that were (Source: National Portrait Gallery, London)

The search for his body began with the 'Looking for Richard' project. Several researchers had proposed the idea that Richard's skeleton was still buried at the original site of the Grey Friar Church, where the Leicester City Council parking lot was located. Amazingly, the team of archeologists uncovered a human skeleton on the first day of the excavation on August 25th 2012. The position of the body indicated that it had been put in a grave that was too small and without a burial shroud, which suggests that he had been buried in a hurry.

An overview of Richard III's skeleton displays his severe scoliosis (Source: University of Leicester)

The skeleton displayed several intriguing qualities and signs of lethal injuries. The back of the king's skull had been removed by a sharp object (possibly a halberd), while another wound had penetrated the top of his skull. There are also other holes in his skull and jaw that are likely from a dagger. If that wasn't enough, there are 'humiliation wounds' that were inflicted to the body post-mortem. Poor King Richard didn't stand a chance. The key to having scientific proof that the remains were Richard's came from his descendants. The mitochondrial DNA evidence at the site had a positive match to DNA taken from a direct descendant of the king's sister, Anne of York.


The discovery of the body also confirmed several accounts about the king's physical appearance. The curvature of the spine indicates that he suffered from adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. The condition would have caused his right shoulder to be raised higher than his left shoulder, reducing his height. This feature is in keeping with some contemporary accounts and depictions of the King in visual art. However, the discoveries made do not account for some of the traits described in Shakespeare's Henry VI (Act III, Scene 2, lines 1645-1650) and taken on by actors personifying the character of Richard in theatre productions. The effects of scoliosis would not have caused him to have a hunchback and there is no indication that he would have had a withered arm.

Crowds gather to commemorate the reinterment of the King (Source: Independent)

The Richard III Visitor Centre opened at the site of the exhumation in July 2014. The Centre features three sections: dynasty, death, and discovery. Together, these sections recount Richard's life and the lasting intrigue that led to his discovery. Features of the museum include a 3D printed replica of the King's skeleton and a chance to visit the site where his body had been buried for hundreds of years. The reinterment has allowed Richard to have a permanent resting place and to receive the farewell that he was not afforded at the time of his death.

Although this occasion has ended a chapter in the story of Richard III, this rediscovery has ignited an interest that will surely lead to further investigations about his life and legacy in history and culture.


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