The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues it Holds by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

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So much and so varied. That’s what I’ve been reading and doing. Thanks for asking!

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I’ve always been a bit of an Anglophile, so when books on the history of the British Isles pop up for review I grab them with my grubby paws and run. Such was my luck to find this book via NetGalley and bless St. Martin’s Press for allowing me to read and review an eBook copy.

All I knew about Richard III prior to this book was what most people “know”:  he was ugly, hunchbacked, evil and a killer of the Princes in the Tower. This was somewhat vague knowledge, picked up from reading a little of this and that. I hadn’t read a proper biography of any British ruler pre-Henry VIII, or nothing dedicated solely to that ruler. So I went into the book believing what we’ve all been fed, that Richard III was a very bad man, indeed.

Well. Partly so and partly not, truth be told and depending on whom you believe.

Set your clocks for October 29, 2013, when this book chock full of all things Richard III will be available for purchase. Philippa Langley’s book tells the story of the recent discovery of King Richard III’s bones at the site of the long-lost Greyfriars Friary, in the city of Leicester, which you may recall was one of the most exciting news stories of 2012. Langley’s passion was the impetus behind the search, so she’s well able to tell the whole – often surreal – tale in minute detail. She’s also very unashamedly pro-Richard III, so in addition to the dig she spends a good part of the book debunking many of the myths surrounding him, myths perpetuated by the Tudors, whose royal claim was dubious, at best. Almost nonexistent, really. In comparison, Richard’s lineage was plainly legitimate. But the Tudors slaughtered him quite thoroughly at the Battle of Bosworth Field (giving him a few extra pokes, just to make sure) and, as you may have noted, made it to the throne. A nasty business but so it was in the 16th century.

Once you’ve read the book you’ll know pretty much all there is to know about Richard, the Wars of the Roses and the archaeological endeavor to locate the royal remains. I can’t imagine any stones were left unturned (pun partially intended) in the writing of King’s Grave. Since there is precious little written material that survived from the era it’s a case of, “Here’s what I have, so from that I can extrapolate…”  In other words, much of the book’s opinion, based on educated guesses. Experts from all disciplines are called in, don’t get me wrong. It’s not just one person’s suppositions. Rather, Langley takes the character assassination poor Richard III has suffered lo these many centuries and investigates each charge, holding it up against the knowledge in existence.

Trusting to the experts, I feel reasonably safe in saying we now have a much more fair and balanced portrait of the king. Seldom is history uncomplicated and it’s always told by the victor, so it’s said. High time someone had a closer look into this particular time and king. Does it matter? I think so. If an extremely famous historic figure has been slandered for centuries I believe someone should investigate the truth. Is everything put forward in The King’s Grave true? I doubt all of it is but I understand the reasoning behind some of their assertions Richard III has been unfairly treated. He was no saint. He probably did murder the Princes in the Tower but some of the charges against him do seem falsified, sensationalized by first the Tudors, then Shakespeare, carried forward to modern times. If the misinformation can be righted I say that’s all to the good. Not only does it take some of the weight off Richard III but it presents history in a more true light.

I pronounce this book fascinating. “Readable,” as is so often used, meaning it’s history but isn’t dull and dry. It’s sort of an adventure tale, part forensics and part historical action rife with lots of spurting blood and charging horses. And at 320 pages you can hardly go wrong, considering how quickly it reads (if you’re not up for memorizing all the Henrys and Edwards, at least).

Excellent book.

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If you’d like to know what’s gone on since, or read back over the timeline of the dig, you can find a fascinating recap at the Richard III Society website. They’ve come up with a proposed design for the tomb they’re planning to have built, to consecrate and honor King Richard III and I think it’s lovely and respectful. Much more so than having been heaved into the ground, hands still tied, paved over with a parking lot. Then again, doesn’t take much to improve on that. But you can see the artist’s rendition on the Richard III site. It’s copyrighted and I can’t nip it to show you here, or I would have. What I can show you is the reconstructed face of Richard III:

Whoops, no. They’ve copyrighted that, as well. But I have to say, he was CUTE! The hairstyle doesn’t do it for me but this was no ugly hunchback.

The dig, though! Yes, the dig:

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Quite right and tally ho.

Also, poor Richard’s remains:

richardiiiremainsSource: University of Leicester c.

You’ll notice they really whomped him a good one on the head. Several times, including a cleaving to the back, taking part of his skull with it.

Very nasty.

The book details it all for you. Every last bit, complete with an estimated timeline of his injuries, how he likely sustained them and everything about the treatment of his corpse. Then, the Tudor after-party before good King Henry VI eventually made his way to the throne. Cozy up to the fire with it this fall. Methinks you’ll enjoy it, especially if you’re as much an Anglophile as I am.

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2 thoughts on “The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues it Holds by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

  1. Great review of what reads like a great book. Living in the UK the story of the finding of the grave has been big news here. The whole affair is still in the news but unfortunately it is mostly to do with the fighting over his remains. In particular where he should be buried, Leicester or York. It is all getting very messy. Having just came across your blog I am liking what I have read so far. I am off to have a rummage around the rest of your blog.

    Like

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