The mystery of who Richard III really was has fascinated historians, readers and audiences familiar with Shakespeare's dastardly portrait of a hunchback monster of royalty for centuries. Earlier this year, the remains of a man with a curving spine, who possible was killed in battle, were discovered underneath the paving of a parking lot in Leicester, England. Phillipa Langley, head of The Richard III Society, spurred on by the work of the historian Michael Jones, led the team of who uncovered the remains, certain that she had found the bones of the monarch. When DNA verification later confirmed that the skeleton was, indeed, that of King Richard III, the discovery ranks among the great stories of passionate intuition and perseverance against the odds. The news of the discovery of Richard's remains has been widely reported by the British as well as worldwide and was front page news for both the New York Times and The Washington Post. Many believe that now, with King Richard III's skeleton in hand, historians will finally begin to understand what happened to him following the Battle of Bosworth Field (twenty miles or so from Leicester) and, ultimately, to know whether he was the hateful, unscrupulous monarch of Shakespeare's drama or a much more benevolent king interested in the common man. Written in alternating chapters, with Richard's 15th century life told by historian Michael Jones (author of the critically acclaimed Bosworth - 1485) contrasting with the 21st century eyewitness account of the search and discovery of the body by Philippa Langley, The King's Grave will be both an extraordinary portrait of the last Plantagenet monarch and the inspiring story of the archaeological dig that finally brings the real King Richard III into the light of day.
Publisher: St. Martin's Press | Genre: Nonfiction | Source: Purchased | Rating: 3.4 Cups
When I first heard about the search to find Richard III’s remains, I was ecstatic. He was the last English king to have died in battle and, not only could his remains reveal the manner in which he died, they could also help debunk parts of Shakespeare’s play. Needless to say, I gobbled up everything that was on the internet and on the telly, so when I found out this book was coming out I hit the pre-order button.
Then I started having problems with Phillipa Langley’s attitude and the way she treated those carrying out the dig, so when this book arrived, I shelved it and forgot about it. Needing a break from fiction, I finally decided to give it a go and ended up being on the fence about it. Honestly, no surprise there given her attitude.
The format of the book is a bit different with the chapters alternating between Langely’s processes for wanting the dig and her thoughts and feelings as it was occurring and Richard’s actual history presented by historian Michael Jones. I have to say, it was Michael Jones that saved this book.
Jones neither vilified Richard III nor sanctified him but rather presented historical evidence about all those involved from the Tudors and Shakespeare to the Edward IV and the Woodvilles. And I found his narrative not only historically enlightening but riveting. I also learned a few new things about Richard III as well as the Battle of Bosworth.
What I struggled with was Langley and her possessiveness towards the remains of Richard III as well as her blasé attitude towards the other remains found on site. I understand that she had a calling and a passion to find Richard III, but she started to get a bit out of control with the way she handled things and the way she reacted towards those carrying out the dig and examination of the remains. If things didn’t go her way, she got angry and argumentative and often lashed out at the professionals working alongside her.
While I did enjoy seeing a sort of behind the scenes look at the process of the dig, i.e. raising the funds, gathering the team, and such, Langley nearly ruined the book.
One a sidenote, I have to say that I wasn’t impressed with the way the archeologist excavating the site handled things. I’m not sure whether they thought finding Richard’s remains was a longshot or if they were rushing because of the limited amount of time they had. Either way, their careless use of the excavator ended up causing damage to Richard’s skeleton . While they had to use a jackhammer to break up the asphalt, once they reached soil, they should have switched to hand tools. Using hand tools once soil is reached is one of the major rules archeologist follow, seeing as machinery can destroy artifacts.
Overall, as a whole, this one doesn’t work. Langley is way over the top but the history that Jones presented is well worth reading.
Did you follow the search for Richard III?