|by Robert Firpo-Cappiello||Historical Travel, Literary Travel, Temples and Churches, Leicester, London||0|
It's not often that someone who's been dead for more than 500 years makes headlines, but when archaeologists announced that the skeleton discovered in a U.K. parking lot was "beyond reasonable doubt" the earthly remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, the world took notice.
When the skeleton was discovered last fall—deep beneath a parking lot where a monastery once stood, near the battlefield where the king fought his last battle—its curved spine and wounds (including a split skull) strongly suggested that it was Richard, who was known to be a hunchback. The next step was to compare the body's DNA with that of direct descendants of Richard's sister, Anne of York, and the DNA proved a match. (You can read much more about the discovery and analysis at the University of Leicester's website.)
For Anglophiles who enjoy historical travel, the only question remaining is: What is there to see? Well, there aren't many opportunities to actually walk in the footsteps of the "hunchback king" because so much time has passed since his day. But there are a few opportunities to immerse yourself in some relevant historical sites—and exceptional literature and theater—in both London and Leicester (about an hour's train ride to the north):
Leicester Cathedral. Richard III's remains will be interred here, near the site of the archaeological dig, where a church has stood for at least 900 years. The current structure was rebuilt from the 13th to the 15th centuries and restored in the early 20th century, and the church includes a memorial stone dedicated to Richard (St. Martins House, 7 Peacock Lane, Leicester, cathedral.leicester.anglican.org).
Bosworth Battlefield. While Richard III probably never cried "My kingdom for a horse" in his losing battle here (those words, of course, are William Shakespeare's), there's plenty of real history to soak up. It was on this field that Richard lost his life and crown to Henry Tudor in 1485, ushering in a new line of English monarchs. Take a guided tour of the field, see the newly opened exhibit Richard III: The Making of the Myth, and ogle actual artifacts from the battle, including cannonballs (Ambion Ln., Sutton Cheney, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, bosworthbattlefield.com).
The Tower of London. Richard III's two-year reign ended violently—and most likely began that way, too. When Richard's brother Edward IV died in 1483, his 12-year-old son was next in line for the throne. But Richard brought the boy and his younger brother to the Tower prior to the boy king's planned coronation and neither child was ever seen again. Today, the Tower offers a walk through history, the Crown Jewels, and displays devoted to the prisoners and implements of torture and execution that have made it a draw for the non-squeamish (The Tower of London, a short, well-signed walk from the Tower Hill underground station, hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon).
Shakespeare's Globe. Over the years actors including Kevin Spacey, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, and Laurence Olivier have starred in Shakespeare's Richard III on stage and in film. An acclaimed production recently finished a West End run, but fans of the bard's historical dramas are not out of luck. Henry VI parts I, II, and III—which deal with the tensions between Richard III's house of York and Henry VI's house of Lancaster a generation before the "hunchback king"—are touring the U.K. under their original titles (Harry the Sixth, The Houses of York and Lancaster, and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York), including performances at Shakespeare's Globe in London (21 New Globe Walk, London, shakespearesglobe.com).