Guest Post From Historical Fiction Author Anne Easter Smith

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Looking for Richard

By Anne Easter Smith
Author of the soon-to-be-published Royal Mistress

So now we know! It was Richard III under the car park in Leicester, and the exciting
announcement on February 4th made me cry. Now all of us who are Richard fans will have
somewhere to go and pay our respects. It appears Leicester has won out in the re-interment battle between there and York Minster. A ceremony is being planned for early 2014, I understand.

The discovery of a skeleton beneath a municipal parking lot in Leicester last September sent a shiver of excitement through the history world and especially several thousand fans of England’s much maligned king, Richard III.

When I heard that an archeological dig was being considered to find the last remains of my
favorite king, I quickly opened my wallet and donated to the attempt. How could I refuse? After all, Richard is the only crowned king of England whose grave has remained shrouded in as much mystery as his life has. And he is featured in all of my books!

The venture was to be undertaken by the archeology department at Leicester University, but the force behind the dig was a fellow Ricardian and president of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society, Philippa Langley. She was convinced her exhaustive research would uncover the remains of the Greyfriars Church, where Richard’s battered body was lain out for “all men to wonder upon” before being given burial, with little ceremony, somewhere inside the church. We only have a couple of references to where it might have been, but I’ll get to that later.

I happened to be in England when they first began to dig on August 25th, so I was privy to more media coverage than perhaps was first given in the US. The Society had approached the BBC about including the dig in its popular “Time Team” program that documents archeological digs all over Britain. They refused at first, but a barrage of emails from Ricardians and enthusiasts all over the world got their attention, and when artifacts from a well-endowed building were uncovered in two trenches, they changed their minds. You can be sure they were doubly glad when, on September 12th, a skeleton was unearthed in a third trench that had uncovered the nave and its shallow burial crypt beneath.

Lo and behold! A solitary skeleton of a male was discovered, its skull caved in by some sharp
instrument, an arrowhead still lodged in its spine, and, most curious of all, a curvature of the
spine that would have made the man’s right shoulder higher than the left. The news raced around the world that finally, King Richard III’s grave may have been uncovered.

Richard III at Leicester Square
But why only now? It seems history forgot Richard after the Tudors sowed their damning seeds about the last Plantagenet king to shore up their own feeble claim to the throne. Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII, chose to date his reign from the day BEFORE the battle of Bosworth, thus making it possible to proclaim Richard’s supporters traitors, and Richard’s body to be treated with despicable irreverence.

After the battle, with a halter around its neck, Richard’s naked, battered body was thrown
ignominiously over the back of a horse and taken back into the city of Leicester and given over to the monks of Greyfriars to lay out for public viewing. After two days, the monks were given permission by the king to bury him somewhere within the monastery walls.

The battle of Bosworth where he lost his crown and his life

At some point in the next ten years, however, the notoriously stingy Henry must have felt guilty for his ill treatment of an anointed king’s remains, and he managed to untie his purse strings to pay one James Keyley to fashion a small alabaster monument to be placed over Richard’s grave. Unfortunately, the Greyfriars monastery and church went the same way the rest of England’s Catholic bastions of religion went during Henry’s son’s reign forty years later. Monks and priests were strung up, churches stripped of all their treasures, monasteries ransacked and burned and tombs overturned and desecrated. In fact, some history books will state that Richard’s bones were found and thrown into the nearby River Soar and his stone sarcophagus (of which there is no mention in the contemporary chronicles) used as a water trough for horses.

In 1611, John Speed (of map fame) wrote a history of Great Britain based on his travels around the country. He writes that a mayor of Leicester owned the now secular Greyfriars monastery as a pleasant residence, and the alabaster monument was still in what was now the garden, albeit covered in nettles and weeds. A traveler in the 18th century also wrote in his journal that he had seen the same monument, but since then the old house has disappeared and the land was subsumed by the city of Leicester. At the time of the dig last year, it had been a parking lot for many years; the city allowed the excavation to take place before the lot is built on yet again.

Is the skeleton Richard’s? Scientists are using DNA from a descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne, to try and ascertain that. Other tests like carbon dating should also help, and a reconstruction of Richard’s face can be done with the latest technology, which will be exciting. By the time you read this, we should know, and I for one wish I could be on hand to witness a more fitting re-burial for this unfortunate, misunderstood king.

About the Author

Anne Easter Smith is an award-winning historical novelist whose research and writing concentrates on England in the 15th century. Meticulous historical research, rich period detail, and compelling female protagonists combine to provide the reader with a sweeping portrait of England in the time of the Wars of the Roses. Her critically acclaimed first book, A Rose for the Crown, debuted in 2006, and her third, The King’s Grace, was the recipient of a Romantic Times Review Best Biography award in 2009. A Queen by Right has been nominated by Romantic Times Review for the Best Historical Fiction award, 2011.

Look for Royal Mistress out in May 2013!


  1. I'm so enjoying the author's posts about Richard III, and I'm looking forward to reading Royal Mistress.


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