Unearthing Historical Truths: Richard III in Fiction and in the Flesh (Well, Bones)

Remember when scientists unearthed the remains of Richard III, the notorious English ruler who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485?

Now, a year after the discovery of those remains, researchers at the University of Leicester have announced plans to sequence Richard III’s entire genome. The goal is to learn more about the last Plantagenet King’s health and ancestry.

This scientific exploration won’t answer the real-life historical mystery at the heart of Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time — whether Richard III was responsible for the deaths of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower — but it’s still very exciting news.

For those interested in finding out more about Tey’s 1951 novel, check out my review of it from last year, Unearthing Historical Truths: Richard III in Fiction and in the Flesh (Well, Bones).

The Misfortune Of Knowing

Apparently, a woman’s intuition in a parking lot in Leicester, England — a strange feeling she was standing on top of King Richard III’s grave (after historical research suggested she was in the correct area) — was right. Mitochondrial DNA tests have confirmed that the remains found at that spot are those of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King. He had been buried unceremoniously after defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

This discovery piqued my interest in Richard III. My knowledge of British history is limited to two courses I took in college, both focused on time periods after Richard’s reign (my professor’s lectures for a later version of one of the courses I took — “Early Modern England” — are available here). My view of Richard III comes mostly from Shakespeare, who portrays him as a villain. In particular, history remembers Richard as the man…

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