LEICESTER, ENGLAND — The University of Leicester’s recent identification of the 15th-century mortal remains of King Richard III was an exhale moment for author Anne Easter Smith.
“It’s very exciting,” said Smith, a former Press-Republican features editor who has since become an award-winning author of five historical novels that chronicle the House of York during the Wars of the Roses.
Simon & Schuster will publish her forthcoming “Royal Mistress,” a novel about Jane Shore, paramour of King Edward IV, this spring.
“I donated money last summer to help make the dig,” Smith said in a recent phone interview. “I had a vested interest in this whole thing.
“This is the only anointed, crowned English king whose grave has never been found. We know where every other king was buried. We can go to their graves except for Richard’s, and now we can.”
Smith, a native of England, is a Ricardian, a member of the Richard III Society, which is dedicated to reclaiming its namesake’s legacy, tarnished, they say, by the House of Tudor.
The historic quest to locate the last Plantagenet king was led by screenwriter/Ricardian Philippa Langley of Edinburgh in 2009.
Though the site of King Richard III’s memorial tomb was lost, Langley intuited his burial place was intact.
Henry Tudor’s invading forces killed the monarch on Aug. 22, 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field. King Richard III was hastily and unceremoniously buried, sans shroud or coffin, in the choir of Greyfriars Church in Leicester.
The building was demolished in the late 1530s.
Under the Leicester City Council car park, built over the site, the monarch was found in a shallow grave, ironically, beneath the letter R (reserve) and on the anniversary of his burial.
“Unfortunately, it will not tell us any more about who Richard was, only how he died,” Smith said. “It’s poor, pathetic, how many wounds they gave him. It’s consistent with all the accounts. Everyone fell on top of him. His body was so irreverently treated, considering he was an anointed king.
“Henry VII was just a mean man. He dated his reign the day before Bosworth. It rendered everyone fighting for Richard as traitors, and that’s treason.”
The king’s remains reveal two fatal skull injuries, a slender frame and severe scoliosis.
His mitochondrial DNA matched two matrilineal descendants of his eldest sister, Anne of York. There is no evidence of the hunchback and withered arm penned by William Shakespeare in the play that paints the king as a villain.
“None of the contemporary descriptions we have of Richard ever mention any deformities,” Smith said. “He had his father’s coloring (gray eyes and brown hair), and he was good looking.”
The Richard III Society recently unveiled a facial reconstruction based on the king’s skull.
“A portrait was done a little after Richard’s death. This one, in particular, was being restored recently. They were examining it and could see lines where someone painted a hunchback on Richard, probably from later in the Tudor period. The discovery of the skeleton shows the physical king.”
MYSTERY OF PRINCES
Thomas More’s “The History of King Richard III” and Shakespeare’s subsequent “The Tragedy of King Richard III,” both written long after the monarch’s death, finger Richard for ruthlessly murdering his nephews, though others had equal motive.
King Edward V, 12, and Duke of York Richard of Shrewsbury were the sons of King Edward IV, Richard’s brother; they mysteriously disappeared in the Tower of London, where they were living in the Royal Apartments.
Edward IV had named Richard as Lord Protector during the minority his nephew; when the boy was declared illegitimate, his uncle Richard was proclaimed the true king.
The mystery of the Princes in the Tower will not be solved by this archaeological discovery.
“What’s important is interest in Richard III is now very high and a lot of people will go back and rediscover him,” Smith said. “He was not the monster that the Tudors make him out to be. That’s huge for Richard’s reputation. For the princes, it will rekindle interest.”
DEBATE OVER NEW SITE
Now, there is a row between the cities of Leicester and York for the monarch’s yellowed bones and a long-deferred royal burial. Appeals and petitions were sent to the British government and Queen Elizabeth II.
“I think he should be buried in York Minster,” Smith said. “That’s where he apparently wanted to be buried. He is most associated with the north of England. He governed it for his brother and governed it very well.”
In Yorkshire, he is still remembered as “Good King Richard.”
Smith believes the king will be interred in Leicester’s Anglican Cathedral.
“He won’t be buried in Westminster Abbey,” she said. “The queen won’t have it. I doubt that she wants Richard III there. She’s descended from the Tudors.”
Smith considers Fotheringhay a logical choice for the king’s new final resting place.
“That’s where his mother (Cecily Neville, Duchess of York), father (Richard Plantagenet, third Duke of York) and brother (Edmund, Earl of Rutland) are buried in (Church of St. Mary and All Saints), Fotheringhay,” Smith said.
“That was the seat of the House of York. Let Richard go back to his mum and dad.”
Email Robin Caudell: firstname.lastname@example.org
ON THE WEB
Anne Easter Smith www.anneeaster smith.com University of Leicester www.le.ac.uk The Richard III Society www.richardiii.net