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Every school pupil knows Richard III’s apocryphal cry of ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’. But what happened next? This school pupil was taught that after being dragged through the streets of Leicester the slain king’s corpse was pitched into the Soar River. Not so, it seems. While the tradition that Richard was denied burial has a long pedigree, various Tudor writers place his final resting place at Greyfriars in Leicester. Such sources are not unbiased. Hell-bent on blackening Richard’s reputation, even if victor’s justice baulked at dumping Richard’s body in a river, it certainly ran his reputation through the gutter.
final resting place at Greyfriars in Leicester. Such sources are not unbiased. Hell-bent
Either way, it should be no more than an interesting historical footnote. Over half a millennium later Richard’s body was surely as untraceable as if it had been hurled into the Soar. Demolished during the Dissolution, the friary disappeared beneath Leicester, to be truncated by later buildings and riddled with services. Even if the king’s remains survived the Dissolution, they were likely to have been obliterated by recent development. At best he would be just an anonymous skeleton. This is what made the press conference held by the University of Leicester on 12 September so electrifying. As five reasons for interest in an adult male skeleton were read out, the similarities with the missing monarch became more and more tantalising, building to the revelation a spinal condition made his right shoulder visibly higher than his left.
Is it him? We will not know for a few months yet, but if Richard has been found, it will be a stunning conclusion to an audacious piece of archaeological detective work.
Our contributors this month
SHAPWICK PROF. MICK ASTON Mick and Chris Gerrard’s archaeological investigation of Shapwick parish has spanned 25 years and involved locals, school children, students from Bristol and Winchester universities, and an enviable team of experts.
MARY ROSE CHRISTOPHER DOBBS Christopher (MA, MBA, PGCE, MIFA) has been a maritime archaeologist for 35 years. Involved in the Mary Rose excavation, he is now UK representative on the International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage.
THE PAST FROM THE AIR CHRISTOPHER CATLING Christopher is well known for his fortnightly Salon newsletter, reporting and commenting on heritage matters for the Society of Antiquaries. He has also been writing for Current Archaeology for more than five years.
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