Screenwriter who prompted the dig for Richard III to talk at Henley Festival (From Bucks Free Press)
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Screenwriter who prompted the dig for Richard III to talk at Henley Festival
DISCOVERING the remains of Richard III- a medieval King- in a car park in Leicester captured the imagination of the country.
It seemed astounding that the last King of England to have died in battle was found more than 500 years later.
And the lady behind the dig to find Richard was Philippa Langley, who had sensed eight years earlier that he was buried underneath the concrete.
She will be talking at the Henley Literary Festival along with historian, Michael Jones about their book about the search for the King's grave and whether they believe he really did kill the Princes in the Tower.
The bones of Richard III were exhumed last August from underneath a Leicester car park. Even those not normally interested in history were intrigued by the discovery, especially when scientists were able to reconstruct what the King would have looked like.
For Philippa it meant many myths about the King of England could now be dispelled. She is a member of the Richard III society, which believes that the traditional accounts of the King are not supported by sufficient evidence. She said: "My search for Richard was all about going in search for a real man and to try smash some of the myths around this man and get to the truth of who he really was."
Shakespeare's play of Richard III depicts him as a vile, hateful villain who is a hunchback. And the mention of Richard III divides people- was he a good King or not? And of course, did he kill his nephews, Prince Edward V and his brother Richard, in the tower or not?
And that is where finding the body was able to shed light on some new facts.
Philippa said it blew myths immediately out of the water- he hadn't been carried through the streets and thrown in the river; that he didn't strike his head on a stone on Bow Bridge after the Battle of Bosworth, and perhaps most importantly of all- that he wasn't a hunchback. Discovering the bones showed he had scoliosis- a severe curvature of the spine.
Michael said: "What this means is it was a condition which would have impacted strongly on Richard but not obviously noticeable to everyone.
"What interested me from a historical point of view was how this would have impacted on him. He would have suffered a degree of pain which would have increased over time.
"I think when he was an adolescent it would have been worrying in Medieval times.
"When he was an adult and King the condition and pain was much stronger. It was a progressive condition.
"In the summer of 1483 when he took the throne he felt under attack from witchcraft- no-one took this very seriously.
"When you put the medical stuff together and the other evidence we know about, it offers a different way of looking at it in the summer of 1483.
"You have this condition- scoliosis- where one shoulder would have been higher than the other.
"By the time he fought his last battle in 1485 there would have been pressure in the lung.
"He was incredibly brave at battle. It makes that determination and all that fight to us all the more extraordinary, considering the pain he must have been in.
"He wasn't deformed as Tudors and Shakespeare portrayed.
"But he did have a condition which would have impacted him physically, emotionally and psychologically."
The bones also show Richard's battle injuries- there are 10 visible injuries- eight on the skull alone.
Michael added: "He was the last English King to fight and die in battle. It was an extraordinary battle.
"He very nearly won it. It clearly climaxed very dramatically.
"Even the most hostile sources say the way Richard fought was amazingly heroic.
"The injuries allow us to go back in time to the last moment of the battle and get a sense of what happened."
In their book they are talking about two searches- the search for Richard's remains and the search for a historical reputation.
And it was Philippa who started the whole thing. She was researching Richard III, with the view of writing a screenplay about the King, when she went to the car park in 2004.
She said: "That was the catalyst and the drive for my search for the King. It is just one of the moments in a certain place I absolutely felt I was walking on his grave.
"It was that powerful an experience. It was then four years of research and three and a half year battle after that to get that tarmac in a the car pack dug. That experience started a seven and a half year journey."
She knew how important the project was, as she knew it would force historians to re-look at the past. It was on the first day that the bones were uncovered.
Philippa said: "We uncovered the bones on the very first day and it was the lower leg bones. That was a surreal experience for me because I absolutely thought it was Richard.
"The scientists, archaeologists and academics said they are just bones, Philippa, there is no Medieval archaeology in that area. There is no context. Let's just cover them up and leave them.
"A week later when we had an on-site meeting at the dig I was the client for the dig and I instructed exhumation of these remains.
"Nobody was interested in them. I had to step up. I also had to pay for it. I didn't have any money in the budget for a second exhumation.
"They then of course uncovered what they uncovered. It was surreal moment for me. Again the academics, the archaeologists and the scientists told me it wasn't Richard as there were no battle injuries on the bone.
"We hadn't uncovered much of the skull or torso at that point."
But eventually DNA analysis proved they were in fact the bones of the King, which was announced in February of this year.
She said: "Now re-look at his life. Now look at everything the historical records seem to suggest are also myths. I think it changes everything in terms of the research and knowledge on Richard III."
There is now some debate about where the body should be laid to rest- in Leicester or York- it is currently going through a judicial review. But Philippa's search was all about finding the real man.
She believes he was an enlightened monarch, who was incredibly fair in his dealings and was genuinely concerned for the rights of the poor. She said from historical records it proves he read lots of books and adored music, which goes against the idea that these were the dark ages.
And Michael agrees as he said he believes many people are influenced by Shakespeare's portrayal and how the Tudors depicted him.
He said: "Many people say 'I am not influenced by the play'. But it is so compelling, so dramatic. I think we have now got an event and a discovery that counterpoints the power of Shakespeare's play. "
He added: "I think he was a man of his times. He was very brave and incredibly courageous.
"He had a genuine concern for justice and the plight of the poor. I think he was loyal and very charismatic. "He was a highly intelligent man and a very pious one."
But he also believes he was a man of his times and he sometimes had to be ruthless.
This is where Michael and Philippa disagree- Michael believes he did kill the Princes in the tower whereas Philippa does not.
Both agree he had a viable claim to the throne but Michael believes he did kill the Princes, but with great reluctance. He also emphasises it is not the only way of seeing him, as you need to put it in the context of the age.
Whereas Philippa believes he sent them away to Burgundy to get them out of the way or that someone loyal to Henry Tudor's party had them killed while Richard was away on a royal progress.
She said: "For me- it was against his career and against his best interests. It would have played directly into the hands of his enemies. "For me there is no way he killed his nephews-no way. "
Either way, Michael said we just don't know, and Philippa emphasises what this discovery means to history- "We must keep questioning."
Philippa Langley and Michael Jones talk about The Search for Richard III at the Henley Literary Festival on October 6 at 4pm in the Kenton Theatre. Tickets are £10. To book go to http://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk
The festival runs from September 30 to October 6.
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