Royal bones: An English king's skeleton may lead to reappraisal
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William Shakespeare had a defeated King Richard III cry out during the Battle of Bosworth Field: "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" But as useful as a horse would have been for escape, what the last Plantagenet king of England needed for the long term was what then did not exist: a public relations professional. The doomed king has never outdistanced the bad reputation given him by the playwright.
Maybe that can change. For 500 years, an unknown grave in Leicester held the body of Richard, remembered mostly in harsh Shakespearean terms as a bloody, hunchbacked usurper -- a view largely but not entirely shared by the English people. Yet, half a millennium on, the king's cause still has its supporters, who raised money to find his lost grave so as to revive a historical reconsideration of his reign.
Their first goal has been achieved. In an effort that would make a perfect "CSI: Medieval" episode, the remains of King Richard III were found at the site of an old friary, the very place where ancient sources said they were interred. The skeleton bore a deformed spine but the final identification was entirely modern: a DNA match from a Canadian-born direct descendant now living in London.
Although Richard III now will likely be buried in a marked grave, the most illustrious burial sights in the land, such as Westminster Abbey, may not be his -- and not just because of the Tudor sympathies of Shakespeare or even the current royals, whose family would not have risen to the throne had King Richard won his last battle. While history may not be complete, it does record that the king sent his two nephews to the Tower of London where they died, probably murdered, to forestall their royal claims.
While the deaths of the young princes scream down through the ages, it is not entirely inconceivable that Richard III's story may be partly rehabilitated thanks to this revival of interest. Shakespeare himself is an unlikely witness to that possibility: As Mark Antony said of Julius Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."
First Published February 9, 2013 12:00 am