The King in the car park

Today, a skeleton found underneath a car park in Leicester was confirmed to be the remains of Richard III. The last King of the Plantagenet line, his remains have laid undisturbed on the site of the old Grey Friars church since he died in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485. I won’t go into details of the discovery as it’s been discussed in great depth all over the Internet, but suffice it to say that DNA testing and extensive examination of the skeleton has proved his identity beyond reasonable doubt.

Richard IIIThroughout history, Richard III has proved to be a highly contentious figure and has long been shrouded in mystery, not least because of his suspected involvement in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. This mystery, along with the dubious politics and intense and famed rivalry of the York family, has inspired numerous and varying depictions of King Richard III in literature throughout the ages, from Shakespeare’s classic tragedy to Philippa Gregory’s latest series, The Cousins’ War.

These works have immortalised the Richard III and have irrevocably shaped the way that we view him today. However, the reliability of our literary sources has been called into question, with many insisting that this representation of the long dead king was born out of fear, prejudice and hate. It’s just one example of how literature, both past and present, can have a powerful influence over our thoughts and shape how we’re remembered by future generations.

However in this case, one of the most prevalent myths about Richard III circulated by Shakespeare’s play has actually been proven to be true. The late king really was a hunchback. But there’s only so much that physical evidence can prove. No matter how hard we look, his skeleton will never reveal what really happened to the princes or the true relationship between Richard and his brothers, wife, nephews or country.

It’s this ever present ambiguity that continues to fascinate historians, authors and the public alike – and it’s what keeps past and present historical fiction at the top of the bestseller lists. The fact that we can never really know what happened continues to prompt a hunger for knowledge amongst readers, and authors are only too happy to have the chance to fill in the blanks. So until we invent a time machine or find a portal to the past, historical fiction is most definitely here to stay!


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