Did you know that the UK owes its legal system, weights and measures, and the fact that our laws are actually written in English, to a guy whose remains lay buried under a Leicester car park for over 500 years?
Yes, I’m talking about King Richard lll. He’s not the baddy everyone made him out to be. After he was killed at the Battle Of Bosworth in 1485 the Tudors were able to tell the story their way, considerably maligning his character. And then Shakespeare perpetrated the myth by portraying Richard as a real out-and-out villain.
I know all this, courtesy of Iain Gordon, Director of the King Richard lll Visitor Centre in Leicester, who gave me a guided tour of the superb facility, and filled me in on the Richard lll story.
Although he was only on the throne for two years, Richard was a real man of his era, having been born into politically unstable times when it was either plot and kill, or be plotted against and killed.
The Centre has had well over 200,000 visitors since it opened in July 2014. I suspect many of them will only have been familiar with the Shakespearian portrayal of Richard…in particular the Laurence Olivier version. But when you leave the Centre you’ll have a much better idea of Richard the man, his achievements as King, and realise that he truly understood what the English people of that era wanted and needed.
July 26th was the third anniversary of the Centre's opening, and I'd like to extend my thanks to Iain Gordon for giving me chapter and verse on the Dynasty, Death and Discovery that combine to give us this incredible historical detective story.
The Dynasty aspect plays out like a medieval soap opera featuring the intrigue and plotting surrounding the Plantaganets and the War Of the Roses, with Death coming at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. But the part of the story that only the Centre can tell is the Discovery of Richard’s remains under a car park.
“The Victorians did come close to it, though, with some of the foundations for this building we’re now in,” says Iain.
He explained that the University of Leicester could tell what Richard’s diet was, by analysing his bones – in particular sections of his ribs. “He had a high protein game and seafood diet, and drank a lot of wine, as Royals and other high status people would have done.
“And we can see evidence of his scoliosis – the curvature of the spine – and begin to understand how that might have affected him at the time.” It’s at this stage of the exhibition that it really comes home to us that Richard was a real human being.
The Centre has attracted over 200,000 visitors since it opened just three years ago, including 70,000 in 2016. However, from the moment the first hole in the excavation was dug in 2012, the world’s media descended on Leicester, and as the story unfolded with his identity being confirmed in 2013, people were becoming increasingly enthralled by The King In The Car Park.