I thought the news that researchers were able to say that the skeleton dug up in Leicester was ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that of Richard III was absolutely wonderful. All the buildup, the forensics, the DNA testing to connect him with a woman descended from the monarch’s sister. Remarkable that the results of an archaeological dig could command such international attention.
Now, 1485 and the Plantagenets and Tudors aren’t my period of history, nor do I corner myself with kings and queens. My business is much more with the common people. But it’s impossible not be fascinated by this body with its scoliosis and its battle wounds, under the ground for more than 500 years.
The legends about Richard paint him in a very dark light, the murderer of the princes in the tower, the man who lost out to Henry at Bosworth field, the last of the Plantaganets, but at this remove he’s just a fascination, another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that’s English history (mind you, I was amused by the comment from the person from the Richard III society after seeing the facial reconstruction, something along the lines of ‘Looking like that, he couldn’t have been a tyrant!). Yes, I’ll go to Leicester and see where Greyfriars stood, I’ll go through the exhibition in the museum and have a look in the cathedral to see where they’ll inter his remains. I’m a sucker for it in the same way that I go through old castles, abbeys, churches, museums and stately homes. They all open the window on the past a little wider. If I hadn’t gone to Temple Newsam in Leeds I wouldn’t have known there was a silversmith in Leeds who worked in the late 17th century and used the initial BB – grist for my fictional mill, so don’t be surprised if it shows up in a Richard Nottingham novel. At St. Mary’s in Whitby I discovered gravestones adorned with skulls and crossbones. Not pirates but mementos mori. If you have eyes to see, the past is there. With the skeleton of Richard III it’s simply writ in larger, bolder letters.