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When the Past and Present Merge: Finding Richard III

"Now is the winter of our discontent."
Over the last week or so, the Net has been in a frenzy over the finding of the bones of Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22, 1485), who was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485. He's a famous name primarily because of Shakespeare, whose tragic play about the man fated to bring about the end of medieval times has remained popular since it was first performed in 1591.

Skeleton found beneath Leicester, UK parking lot confirmed by DNA to be that of Richard III.

Where did they find his royal bones? In a not-so-royal parking lot.

He was the last English king to die on the battlefield and historians were elated to find that, in fact, the base of his skull had been sliced off by a sword.

The Internet lit up with the news. Reddit voted the story rapidly upward. Richard was a trending topic on Twitter. All this fuss over an old king's bones.


Part of it is the story of how he died, and that historians were able to corroborate the legend with the remains.  The skeleton clearly showed that he had scoliosis, for example, which explains why he was considered a hunchback, a "poisonous, hunchbacked toad" as described by Shakespeare.  A Reuter's article describes the find:

The skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting the king had lost his helmet. The skull showed a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull. A metal fragment was found in the vertebrae.

The victor, the future King Henry VII, had Richard's naked body exposed to the people of Leicester to show the battle was won, ending the bloody 30-year civil conflict known as The Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster.

Last night on Bill Maher, Newsweek's Tina Brown described the discovery as a "forensic romance." And it is romantic, finding the remains of a legendary king. It's also ironic and tragic in that the poor guy was found buried under a parking lot.

There's also modern drama, as the cities of Leicester and York fight over where the remains should be reinterred (a note...that article also includes an audio clip with a conjecture on what Richard III's Midlands accent would have sounded like).

I, for one, love to see when the distant past surfaces so sharply into the world of the present. It sparks the collective imagination. I predict that over the next year or two, Richard III will be one of the more popular plays to be performed in theaters across the world. A discovery of this sort fuels the world's interest to understand more about this tragic figure.  His has all the makings of a great story--a King, a hunchback, a contested throne, medieval era romanticism, civil war, family murder...the list goes on.

To read the most famous of the stories, start here:  Or pick up a more modern interpretation, the 1995 movie featuring Ian McKellan:

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