On 4 February this year my phone barely left my hand as I constantly checked my twitter updates, waiting to be told whether the skeleton found under the Leicester carpark really was Richard III. It seemed impossible, but like everyone else following the news I so hoped it was. Then the information started to be revealed piece by piece – the curvature of the spine; the battle trauma; an adult male with an unusual feminine build – all seeming to point at Richard III. Then the final confirmation – this was King Richard III. Just reading this announcement was so emotional, how much more amazing to have been there. From then on I watched a rerun of the live announcement, the excellent documentaries and read a number of articles, determined to go to Leicester and be a small part of this discovery.
I first became interested in Richard III after watching the Shakespear play as a young teenager in Stratford. I shortly followed this up by reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time; and became indignant on the King’s behalf at Shakespear’s treatment – in only the way a teenager can. Since then I have read much more about Richard III and my viewpoint has become more balanced, although I remain in the ‘he didn’t do it’ camp.
This week I finally got myself to Leicester and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the recent discovery. I started off with the Richard III walking trail, which you can download for free from the Visit Leicester Website. It takes you around the city to the major sites associated with Richard III. This gave me a charming introduction to Leicester itself and made me feel suitably prepared for the exhibition.
The first stop was the site of the Blue Boar Inn. This is where Richard spent his last night before the Battle Of Bosworth. Reportedly this had been called The White Boar after Richard III’s badge, but was changed following his defeat. Unfortunately, it has now been demolished and a Travelodge stands on the site (apparently if you have the name Plantagenet you can stay for free) – Richard may not have been too impressed by this, but hopefully would have been more pleased with the pub along from the site which now bears his name. Another stop on the tour is the Bow Bridge (again not the original).According to Legend the King’s spur hit the bridge on the way across and a wise woman predicted that Richard would be defeated and his head would hit the bridge on the way back – which it did.
Towards the end of the tour you see the carpark where the Kings bones were found. There is not much to see – the site is covered with a large gazebo and there is a guard at the front stopping anyone not on an official tour getting in. However, I was still filled with a sense of awe just standing there. To see the simplicity of the place where the bones had been hidden for so long bought home to me just how amazing this discovery was, and how inappropriate this place had been for the resting place of a King.
From there the tour ended up with the Cathedral and the exhibition. The Cathedral itself it well worth visiting, it has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have seen anywhere and the staff there are very welcoming and informative. There was a lot of information available at the Cathedral and of course the stone slab is there remembering Richard III.
The exhibition itself explains the scientific evidence from the dig and how these led to the identification of the King. It includes an exact model of the skull, touch screen information screens, narrative from the different people involved in the dig and some of the artifacts found there. This is a fascinating exhibition, which explains clearly step-by-step the different scientific clues and how they were put together.
There is a life-sized inter-active skeleton panel – by touching each part of the skeleton you can explore the wounds inflicted on the King at the Battle of Bosworth. The exhibition puts into historical context the findings from the dig – comparing what is recorded about his life with the discoveries made. It is a living story of those discoveries and as you work your way around the small space it is as if you were a part of this. Considering that this exhibition was put together in only four weeks it really is remarkable.
Next year the exhibition is due to move to a larger building next to the dig site, and will hopefully incorporate the site in some way. I will be looking forward to returning to Leicester to see what further discoveries are made over the coming year and how they are presented in the bigger space.