Richard III? (ctd.)
March 28 2014
There was great excitement last year when the University of Leicester claimed it had found Richard III's body in a Leicester car park. There were immediate calls to re-bury the body in either York or Leicester cathedrals. At the time, I posted this sceptical view, and argued that:
If we want to be able to say, 'This is Richard III', with such conviction that we are able then to bury him with all the dignity the Church can muster, in a shrine in some exalted cathedral,* then we must be absolutely sure, beyond not just reasonable doubt but any doubt, that it is him. And we are not yet there.
We're still not there, not least because the University of Leicester has yet release of all the archaeological and DNA evidence. So I was interested to read today that two emminent experts, Martin Biddle, emeritus professor of medieval archaeology at Oxford, and Michael Hicks, head of history at Winchester University, have gone public with their doubts, in an interview with BBC History Magazine:
Speaking exclusively to BBC History Magazine, Michael Hicks, head of history at the University of Winchester, and Martin Biddle, archaeologist and director of the Winchester Research Unit, raised concerns about the DNA testing, radiocarbon dating and damage to the skeleton. Biddle also notes that the team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester is yet to make excavation field records publicly available.
Hicks (pictured below) said he is not convinced that the remains are those of the king. Instead, he argues, they could belong to a victim of any of the battles fought during the Wars of the Roses, of which the 1485 battle of Bosworth – at which Richard was killed – was the last significant example.
While the location of the grave in the former site of the Grey Friars priory matches information provided by John Rous, an associate of Richard’s, Hicks notes that “lots of other people who suffered similar wounds could have been buried in the choir of the church where the bones were found”.
He also queried the project’s use of radiocarbon dating, which dates the bones to the period of Richard’s death. “Such a technique is imprecise,” he said. “It will give you an era, but nothing more. In this case, it covers a period of 80 years.”
You may be wondering what the art historical point of all this is, and it's due to the claim, also made by the UoL, that Richard III's skull could be used to recreate 'what he really looked like'. And of this I'm sceptical too!