Saturday, July 25, 2015

"The Bones of a King" Book Review Part I

I recently purchased the latest book published regarding the discovery of Richard III's remains, "The Bones of a King."  The book is a group effort by the Greyfriars Research Team, along with Maev Kennedy & Lin Foxhall.  By now there are countless books all covering the same topic. What I was hoping to get at long last was a book that was informative, accurate, but without the unnecessary drama that some books seem to focus on. And, well, for the most part, that is what I'm reading.  
Credit: Me

I will say that it was rather eye-opening (& not in a good way) to crack open my book & discover that the tomb of Edmund, Earl of Rutland has been identified in the book as that of "Duke Edward." Now, I've been the victim of guerrilla typos myself, but that error should have been caught & corrected before the book went to print. I hope it's corrected before the 2nd edition comes out. 

I've decided to write my review in parts as I read the book because there's always something really interesting that I seem to forget to add to my reviews.  

The book itself starts at the beginning, with the team doing the research needed to figure out the best places to dig as well as the most likely places the remains of the Greyfriars Church could be.  They were limited in time, money, and available space, so figuring out where to dig was a high priority.  Keep in mind that even the earliest maps we have identifying where the Greyfriars priory was were not drafted within living memory.  The book includes the Thomas Roberts map from the 18th Century, as well as a modern-day reconstruction of medieval Leicester.  What I find most remarkable is that all these maps, based on oral history, turned out to be stunningly accurate once the archaeologists were able to excavate the ruins & research what they found.

Another beef with this book:  While the authors mention several people who correctly identified where Richard's remains were likely to be (including David Baldwin), they left out Audrey Strange, the  lady from the 1960's who was told to go wash pots when she nicely suggested where archaeologists could dig.  I only hope the "scientist" who told her that was still alive in 2013 for his nice big helping of crow. For an interesting look at Mrs. Strange, check out her son's web page about her:   How accurate was she with that facial reconstruction she did!

What I have found most interesting about the book thus far is the inclusion of the Epitaph that reportedly was hung by Richard's tomb within the church of the Greyfriars.  The authors of the book include all the translations of it & I have to say, as much as I'd love George Buck's version to be true, none of the other translations agree with his, so I think Buck's translation was wishful thinking. 

The authors also go into a discussion of how & why Richard ended up at Greyfriars when there were several other churches in Leicester he could have been interred at, such as St. Mary de Castro, where his father was knighted & created Duke of York.  The authors point out that several of the friars had been convicted of treason some 80 years before & beheaded.  (In fact, the researchers thought they might find their bodies during the dig)  The idea struck me that maybe Henry VII was sending some sort of message that Richard was a traitor, but because he was a king, he was interred without being beheaded in a place of honor inside the church of the Greyfriars, but not in a place that the public had access to.   I haven't read further in the book yet to see if the authors pick up on this connection; it's certainly not one I've seen anywhere else.

Overall, I am thus far pleased with this book.  It includes sources at the ends of each chapter, as well as suggestions for further reading both on & offline.  Major bonus: NO DRAMA! (well, at least up to Chapter 3) And now, on to Chapter 4. 

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