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Richard III, whose depiction as the epitome of evil leadership, is now being challenged, after the discovery of his bones in Leicester, England.

Richard III: Debunking the myth with the bones

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By Saturday, Sep 26, 2015 Learning 8

Sheffield — Perhaps it’s fitting that October is Archeology Month in Massachusetts what with Halloween and dancing bones being the order of the day. Begun in 1992 as Archaeology Week, Massachusetts Archaeology Month is a celebration of archaeology in Massachusetts and around the world. Museums, libraries, and archaeologists are hosting a wide variety of events for adults, children, and teachers to promote history through archeology.

King Richard III.

King Richard III.

There are many sites to visit in New England that celebrate local archeological exploration all year round; our own W.E.B. DuBois birth site is a wonderful example of the use that history can make of good archeological exploration. Up until a few years ago the site, located just south of Great Barrington on Route 23, was a field of scrub pines; but with the assistance of trained archeologists from UMass, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and the National Parks Service, this site has been reclaimed and its history brought to light thanks to the untiring efforts of the local W.E.B. Du Bois Society.

To celebrate archeology month this year, the Egremont Historical Commission in partnership with the Sheffield Historical Commission and the Sheffield Historical Society is promoting one of the more spectacular archeological finds of the century for your enjoyment. Sally B. Keil, membership chair of the American branch of the Richard III Society, will give an illustrated presentation on the discovery of the bones of England’s King Richard III in a parking lot in Leicester England two years ago. The Car Park King, as the media called him then, was killed in battle on the fields of Bosworth in 1485 during the War of the Roses. The winner, Henry VII, was from the same family that has fascinated us in their own TV series, the Tudors. Henry attempted to destroy all record of Richard’s family by killing all his relatives. William Shakespeare, who wrote under the Tudor Queen, Elizabeth, naturally treated Richard pretty poorly in his play by that name, and history, because the records were so few and far between, has continued to treat him poorly as well. Richard III has been portrayed as an evil hunchback who murdered his nephews and took the throne by duplicity and murder. Until now. The discovery of the bones of Richard III, thought lost for 700 years, has re-invigorated the debate about his actions during his reign, and the actions of the winner, Henry VII.

King Richard the III's bones were discovered during excavation for a car park in Leicester, England.

King Richard the III’s bones were discovered during excavation for a car park in Leicester, England.

The use of archeology as a tool to understand history is actually a relatively recent event. Ancient written texts were the primary source used by the educated for centuries to understand and explain the past. Archeological sites and physical items such as coins, and statuary were collected, in very undisciplined ways I might add, for their aesthetic value and rarely explored for what they could tell us about the times in which they were made, and how they functioned. That would not begin in any meaningful way until the late 17th century and the Age of Reason. The need for a careful and methodical approach during the discovery and removal of objects from an historic site is still unfortunately not fully appreciated. In New England, old farm foundations, barns, outbuildings and wells, and Indian sites can still be found. The fun of doing it with an historian and learning this amazing skill of archeology should always be followed if you do have a site you are aware of that you would like to explore. This gives history an opportunity through archeology to re-evaluate, revise, and reflect a more balanced and accurate portrayal; in this case, restoring a King of England who was thought to be, at one time, evil incarnate.

Come hear about the daunting adventures of the Richard hunters, who spent years tracking down the truth. How a DNA sample, recently taken from Richard’s last living descendant was able to prove the bones to be his. Hear the difficulties of the hunt, and see the glory of Richard’s interment in the Cathedral at Leicester.

Join us at 1 p.m. at Dewey Hall on Main Street in Sheffield on Saturday, October 3rd, to hear Sally B. Keil speak about one of the major archeological discoveries of this century, the bones of Richard III.

For more background on Richard and his reign, visit www.r3.org; For information on other exciting projects sponsored by the Historical Commission of Massachusetts, go to Mass. Archeology Month.

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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Susan Pettee says:

    Ngaio Marsh’s book The Daughter of Time is also a re-examination of Richard III. It is told as fiction, as a project Marsh’s detective undertakes to occupy himself while in the hospital, but it is actually a serious piece of historical research. (The title refers to the saying, “Truth is the daughter of time.”) Its bottom line is that Richard’s reputation os an evil hunchback was deliberately constructed by his Tudor successors, who did so to legitimize their not-so-legitimate regimes by means of a far-reaching propaganda campaign. It is interesting that his skeleton shows some scoliosis but definitely no hunchback. Early portraits of him also do not show deformity of the sort Shakespeare described.

  2. Joanne says:

    Hope it’s a typo, but it was Henry VII (just plain old Henry Tudor at the time) at Bosworth, not Henry VI!

    1. Thanks, Joanne, for pointing out the error. I’ve corrected it, giving Henry VII his due!

  3. Jean-Jacques says:

    Let’s dig a little deeper on those Roman numerals. Perhaps Henry VII instead of VI for the victor atBosworth Field?

  4. Jean-Jacques says:

    The above comment is mine and complies with your standards

    1. Right you are! Thanks for pointing out our error. I’ve corrected the copy….

  5. Susan P. Bachelder says:

    Thank you to my editor for correcting the error – Henry VII it was. I do hope those who have read The Daughter of Time, a wonderful book, will come and ask our speaker more questions. This has been her particular area of study for over thirty years.

  6. Joanne says:

    Just noticed, you say his bones were thought lost for 700 years – That would be from 100 + years before he was born! ‘Over 500 years’ would work!

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