Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Search for Richard III - The King's Grave by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones

I think most people love a mystery. Right? When this mystery is a real, life, historical mystery, I am just asking, how good can it be? It can be as good as this book and its fantastic story of finding a long, lost grave of a King! To make it even better, the story happened recently so it is really hot stuff! The last entries in the book was made in March this year.

I feel I know a lot about Richard III now. First I read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey about a inspector "solving" the crime of the "Princes in the Tower" from his hospital bed. A very enjoyable read. This book is a 'real' look into the mystery of Richard III and the search for his grave. But it is also a quest to try to find out who he was and try to find a more nuanced picture of the man and his deeds. His bad reputation, which was emphasised by Tudor propaganda at the time, and the still not solved mystery of who killed the "Princes of the Tower".

Philippa Langley spent several years researching and planning for the project of finding the grave of Richard III. It took her to Leicester and the Medieval Church of the Grey Friars. She managed to find and enrol experts within various fields as well as Leicester city council and universities. But it is not only a matter of finding the right people to the project but one of the most important thing in cases like this is to find funding. She managed and the project was ready to go. The media was also interested which was a positive thing for the project.

Philippa Langley and Michael Jones, historian
and writer of the life of Richard III
What one did know is that Richard III was buried in the Church of the Grey Friars in Leicester. However, experts were not really sure even of where the Grey Friars Church were situated exactly. It was always thought that it was in between streets which still bore the names from those days. The church itself has been gone since the 17th century, and other buildings have been built on top of it over the years. It was by pure chance that according to some calculations, it could possibly have been standing in what today is a car park. Going around the area Philippa came to a parking space (marked with an R for Reserved!), and at a specific spot she felt something stir inside her and got goose-bumps all over her arms. Then she just knew that Richard was buried there. However, that is not a very scientific kind of approach so she kept it to herself at the time.

We know when we start the book that the grave was found. It is nevertheless a very interesting and exciting story, better than any made up mystery novel. Every other chapter is about the dig and in every other chapter we get the story of Richard III and his life and deeds. It gives the story a very realistic twist as if we are following the man at the same time as we are following the traces to find his grave.

With all the new scientific innovations these days there are a lot of ways of establishing how old bones are and who they belong to (don't we all know from watching Bones!). Once the bones were found and identified it was possible to know more about how he died considering the wounds to his skull and it was also possible to make a facial reconstruction on how he looked. Here he is!

Facial reconstruction from
Richard III's skull!
If you are interested in history and mystery this is a book for you. There are a lot of more information in the book which I have not mentioned here. It is very well written and very comprehendible also for non-historians. Utterly fascinating and exciting, and it gives a good insight into the lives and times and the start of the Tudor dynasty. It is amazing to read of how Henry VII managed to grab the throne. Little did they know at the time that this was the start  of one of the most famous dynasties in English history with long reigning regents like Henry VIII and Elisabeth I.


  1. I saw a documentary about this last year - it was absolutely fascinating. I'll have to check out this book now too!

  2. Langley writes about the filming as well. I really would like to see the documentary. Tried to find it on You Tube but not successful. Have to try harder.