The King in the car park, what a way to be remembered, as if your reputation wasn’t bad enough already. King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the last king of England to die in battle, not quite the end of the Wars of the Roses but marking the end of the Plantagenet reign and the beginning of the Tudor age. In August 21012, an excavation took place in a Leicester council car park on the site of the long demolished Grey Friars Church. The archaeological excavation unearthed an unceremoniously dumped skeleton with a severe spinal curvature The remains were confirmed as those of Richard III and he became known as The King in the Car Park.
We are visiting the King in the car park nearly a year to the day he was reinterred and at the King Richard III Visitor Centre which now stands on the site of the car park.
Richard III was the King we love to hate, Shakespearian tales of a twisted and deformed hunchback, usurping his nephews, the “princes in the tower” Edward and Richard from the crown by locking them in the Tower of London for them to mysteriously disappear i.e. murdered. His short reign of 2 years brought to a bloody end in battle at Bosworth against Henry Tudor. The King Richard III Visitor Centre gives the story of his rise to power to his bloody demise, his hasty burial and quest by the “Looking for Richard” group led by the slightly bonkers Philippa Langley.
Unfortunately there is very little in the way of medieval artefacts to note on display. It’s the story of the excavation with videos, a high-vis vest, pick axe and Wellington boots reeking of desperation. It’s a little disappointing. The admission fee is a tad steep, they reckon the exhibition will take an hour and half, we managed it in 35 minutes dragging our heels. And that’s the problem, it’s not a museum, it’s a visitor centre, an attraction. More cash cow than king like.
Alas, we don’t get to see the remains of the King in the Car Park, weak arguments about dignity and respect for the dead meant that Richard III’s remains were buried at Leicester Cathedral. I’m sure they’d be horrified to see the skeletal remains of Glen Parva lady at the free-to-enter Jewry Wall museum down the road.
Instead there is a 3D printed replica of his skeleton. We are clearly able to see the curvature of the spine from scoliosis, not quite the hunchback as depicted by the victorious Tudor disinformation team. History might very well be written by the victors but it might not be correct. The printed replica shows the wounds that Richard received and the fatal blows to the back of the head delivered as a final coup de grâce. The number of wounds inflicted at the time of death and those after, certainly seem like overkill. Not a romantic vision of the Wars of the Roses, Battle of Towton anyone?
There is a facial reconstruction, not sure how accurate these are supposed to be and the white replica armour on display makes Richard III look like a medieval Stormtrooper. Conclusive proof that he was evil by wearing the Empire’s colours. We veer towards the exit but not before pausing over the dig site of the King in the car park with his projected image outline of the skeletal remains in his grave.
Finally we pop over the road to Leicester Cathedral where Richard III was reinterred in a lavish ceremony after an unholy courtroom battle for those who wanted him to be reinterred in York. Perhaps they should have taken better care of him in the first place. Allegedly free to enter, we were soon accosted by the god squad to “donate” £3 as their eyes burned into my wallet. Viewing the opulent fossil stone tomb where Richard III resides in his final resting place cannot be done in place, another member of the church persists in staying close to the tomb. Clearly no rest for the wicked.