Book Review: Digging For Richard III

Digging For Richard III:  The Search For The Lost King, by Mike Pitts

For someone who is not the biggest fan of Richard III, I have read a lot about him [1].  I’m not sure why this is the case.  This book was written by people are are partisans of Richard III, and it should be noted that even if Richard III was immensely unsuccessful at inspiring the people of England to fight on his behalf that he was brave and fell due to treachery rather than by being an inhuman monster.  And my belief that Richard III actually committed a great deal of the killings that are ascribed to him (including that of the princes in the tower) does not imply that I consider him a worse monster than any of the other brutal Plantagenet kings or the Tudors or Stuarts who followed, who were fairly ruthless and brutal themselves.  Given the harsh opinions that often exist about Richard III, it seems as if people forget that holding power in the world has often required a certain amount of ruthlessness, and that it is hypocritical for all of that blame to fall on merely one of the many people who has some bodies in his background, especially given his end.

This particular book is tellingly divided, like a Shakespearean drama, into five acts.   After a short prologue, the first act discusses England in the period of the Wars of the Roses and discusses why it is that Richard III has attracted such strong interest from many people.  After that there are three scenes that discuss the search for Richard III, beginning with a discussion of Leicester’s commemoration of Richard III and the origins of Philippa Langley’s search for him, moves on to a discussion of the approach made to Leicester academics for a search to be made, and then moves on to the funding crisis and its resolution that allowed a car park to be dug.  Two scenes about the 2012 excavation that found, on the first day, the skeleton of Richard III, and then how that skeleton was excavated, make up the third act of this book’s drama.  The fourth act discusses the autopsy made that demonstrated the sort of injuries and humiliation that Richard III had suffered at Bosworth.  Finally, the fifth act discusses the inquest that puts together what can be known about Richard III and his death, and an epilogue discusses why the remains matters and also comments on the discussion about the site of the battle of Bosworth itself nearby.

When we think of the death of English kings, we think of a great deal of ceremony.  We think of services at Westminster Abbey and nations in mourning.  As this book reveals, that is not what happened with Richard III.  After being captured in battle, he was humiliated and killed from behind and subjected to the injustice of being shown as dead to anyone who wanted to see his rotting corpse in Leicester to demonstrate the victory of Henry VII before being unceremoniously buried in a friary there.  How unceremoniously?  He wasn’t even buried in casket, just buried in a hole in the ground not far from the choir area of the friary, where the public was not allowed to go.  Given the way that the fate of far less competent rulers has attracted a lot of sympathy, it is unsurprising that people would look at the cruelty of the Tudor rulers and the obvious exaggerations made by those who want to demonize Richard III and not want to cheer on someone who has long gotten a bad rap both in life (as a sufferer of scoliosis and in the treachery he had to deal with) and after death in the writings of Shakespeare and others.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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