Archaeologists in Britain have begun looking for the remains of the last English king to die in battle. They believe King Richard III was buried under what is currently a parking lot in the city of Leicester. Robert Siegel talks to Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, who has been at the dig site.
Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Archaeologists in Britain are trying to decode an historical mystery. They hope to find the remains of King Richard III under a parking lot in the city of Leicester. Richard III was the 15th century warrior king whose defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field put an end to the Plantagenet Dynasty and the War of the Roses. He was, of course, immortalized by Shakespeare. Think: Now is the winter of our discontent.
Before that, he was chronicled by Holinshed, who described his corpse paraded through Leicester. And I'm quoting now, "His head and arms hanging on the one side of the horse, and his legs on the other side, and all besprinkled with mire and blood. He was brought to the Greyfriars Church within the town, and there lay like a miserable spectacle."
Well, joining us from Leicester is Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society. She's been on the site where archaeologists hope to find Richard's remains. Welcome to the program.
PHILIPPA LANGLEY: Hello, Robert.
SIEGEL: And that site, I take it, is where that Greyfriars Church is believed to have been. How was that site identified?
LANGLEY: Mainly we did something called map regression analysis, which is basically looking at the oldest maps that we can find, coming up to the most modern maps and looking at the change of land use over time. And it became clear, when we did this analysis, that the church and the precinct of the Greyfriars was definitely in the area of the parking lot.
SIEGEL: Tell us a bit about this parking lot. What does it look like? Where is it and what's going on these days?
LANGLEY: It's pretty much in the sort of the old center of Leicester. It is surrounded by buildings. It's part of Leicester City Council, so they've got a lot of old sort of offices around it, so it's a busy place. And then, just over the wall, there's a smaller car park that used to be a grammar school. It's currently up for sale and development at the moment. And we're also putting in one of the trenches in that car park. And that was one of the reasons that we wanted to get this project off the ground ASAP, because we were against a ticking clock in a sense.
SIEGEL: You've made parking problems more difficult in Leicester by doing this.
LANGLEY: Yeah, it's a bit difficult to park there at the moment, I would say.
SIEGEL: And are you looking for a single burial site or a whole graveyard under the ground? What would it be?
LANGLEY: Well, we know Richard was buried in the choir of the church. So our first aim is to find the church. If we find the church we've got a good chance of finding the choir.
SIEGEL: Inside the walls of the old church.
LANGLEY: Yes, inside - definitely inside.
SIEGEL: And let's say that you're successful and that you find some 500-year-old-plus remains. How will people identify those as the remains of Richard III?
LANGLEY: Well, I think there's a number of things we can look at. We know what age he was when he died. We know pretty much how he died. It would potentially show battle injuries. We know he had a violent death. And we also have his mitochondrial-DNA sequence.
SIEGEL: And where did you come by your deep interest in Richard III?
LANGLEY: I was researching him for a screenplay that I've written. And I just became absolutely fascinated with this man because you get, you know, Shakespeare's "Richard III" is such a powerful character, you know, that it's kind of deeply ingrained. When you think Richard III, you can't help but think sort of the hunchback with a withered arm and the serial killer.
But when you actually go into the records, when you actually read about the real man and learn what was important to him, you see a completely different character and see a completely different man.
SIEGEL: Well, Philippa Langley, thank you very much for talking with us.
LANGLEY: Thanks, Robert. Thank you.
SIEGEL: That's Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society about the dig under way in the English city of Leicester, in search of the remains of King Richard III. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.