Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Missing: One King....


If you've been watching the news, you know that archaeologists in England have just identified a skeleton uncovered beneath a Leicester city car park as the long-lost remains of King Richard III.

The timing is rather ironic, since I'm in the midst of plotting the tenth in the Sebastian St. Cyr series (tentatively entitled Who Buries the Dead) and it coincidentally involves the rediscovery of another missing king--in this instance, Charles I. Charles, who lost his head in 1649 in the midst of the English Civil War, was another unlucky royal whose mortal remains went walkabout. They were found in the spring of 1813, when workmen accidently poked a hole in the tomb of Henry VIII. Authorities peered through the opening, expecting to see only two coffins--Henry's and Jane Seymour's. Instead, there were three. Fortunately for those Regency officials--who didn't have the wonders of DNA to confirm poor Charles's identity--the coffin was labeled. Plus, there was enough of Charles left that those familiar with his portraits could identify his head (yes, it was in there, too).


Interestingly, the whereabouts of Edward IV was also lost until he was accidentally rediscovered in 1789. Which makes me wonder, just how many other post-Conquest kings and queens have gone missing?

Update: It seems four other English kings are also missing: Henry, son of William the Conqueror and Stephen were both buried in monastic institutions that were destroyed under Henry VIII. Also missing is Edward V, the nephew that Richard may or may not have murdered. Someone did away with him and stashed him supposedly under steps in the Tower. A boy's bones were found there in the 17th century, but their authenticity is problematic. The final missing king is James II, who was buried in France. During the Revolution, his body and various parts suffered the same fate as that of other royals and aristocrats entombed there. Seems there's a book, The Royal Tombs of Great Britain, that goes into all sorts of ghoulish detail, although I haven't seen it.

Images credited to the University of Leicester.

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13 Comments:

Blogger paz said...

"Fortunately" there was enough of Charles left...? I would rather say "gruesomely"!!!

I have always been very uncomfortable with exhibits of human remains. (The Smithsonian had one such bones of a young Peruvian girl at one time). Of course, poor Richard is far far removed from caring, I am sure...

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I have been interested in Richard III for a very long time (thank you Josephine Tey & Sharon Kay Penman), so I'm finding this all incredibly interesting, especially the facial reconstruction.

I hope this prompts historians to take another look at Richard, without the Shakespearean overtones (I'm not convinced of his guilt in his nephews' death, among other things).

9:55 PM  
Blogger cs harris said...

Paz, yes it evidently was quite a sight--I didn't go into the gory details; the "fortunately" was intended to refer only to the label "Charles I" ! I also have problems with the public display of human remains, which is strange since I dug up so many when I was working as an archaeologist. My attitude is, Study them and then respectfully rebury them.

Jessica, have you visited the University of Leicester's website? They have a lot of information/videos up there. I agree Shakespeare demonized him, but I don't think he was very charming in real life. And at least we now know his severely deformed back was real.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the finding is just fascinating. I've read all the Sharon K Penman novels and just loved them. The scoliosis on the skeleton is just amazing - how large the curvature is. I also loved seeing the re-creation of his head from the skull. Less than a month left for What Darkness Brings. I can't even contemplate starting to think about your next ones until I've read that one. Sabena

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

I have not visited the University of Leicester's site, but I will make a point to do so. I definitely agree he was ruthless enough to take power. I just think he wasn't the devil in disguise :).

And yes, that was a heck of a spine curvature.

7:50 PM  
Blogger LOgalinOR said...

Ms. Harris,
Utterly fascinating info! The stuff that can lead to lies, long and short tales (real and not so real), and legends and so on. One quick question, wasn't the 10th St. Cyr book at one time, in one of your previous posts, initially titled "Why Kings Confess"?
The countdown is on for What Darkness Brings! Absolutely chomping at the bit, can't wait!!!

10:10 AM  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

I heard about this. Rather cool. Amazing too. Forensic science is rather fascinating.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

This made big news here in Canada, partly because the DNA of a Canadian was used, partly because we still have the monarchy and monarchists still abound (except for in Quebec). When I first read it, I immediately thought of Hero and her interest in cataloging the remains of the monastic houses. FYI, as a knitwear designer, I can't help but be interested in Charles I--his very beautiful silk waistcoat, worn at his execution, has been preserved as an example of fine-gauge brocade knitting (bloodstains and all!)

11:27 AM  
Blogger oldcelt said...

Have seen rumours online that the next one to look for would be Alfred. Not sure how serious this is.

11:47 AM  
Blogger cs harris said...

Sabena, I know, there's always a weird disconnect when I'm starting a new book and my readers are two books behind me.

Jessica, I would think he lived in agony from that back.

LOgalinOR, Why KIngs Confess is #9; the book I'm just starting will be #10. I know I get confused myself all the time.

Charles, it's fascinating stuff.

Liz, I did not know they took off his waistcoat; how bizarre. I wonder why?

oldcelt, I wish they'd DNA the bones that might belong to the Princes in the Tower. Although I suspect there's not much left.





7:56 PM  
Blogger Jan Power said...

I have been very emotional about this because of loving The Sunne in Splendor. It is one of the first books in my hard copy library I duplicated in Kindle (Sebastian's were first Candy :) ). That he would participate in battle with that deformity, can you imagine the pain he endured? Tina Brown pointed out his skeletal remains would make one think he was destined for the Special Olympics, yet there he was on horseback, leading the Battle of Bosworth.

My love of history dated from this York family. I was so intrigued by the story of George choosing to die in a vat of malmsey and Elizabeth Woodville striking just the right note to get Edward to marry her. It mattered not to a twelve year old that the vat drowning story is most likely apocryphal.

Thanks for the Josephine Tey rec, Jessica. I am looking for a good read.

Candy, you crack me up, "his remains went on walk about." :D

11:09 AM  
Blogger cs harris said...

Jan, I've never read The Sunne in Splendor. They are a fascinating family--both the Yorks and the Tudors.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous Jessica said...

The Sunne in Splendour is terrific. Sharon Kay Penman in general is terrific -- she does her research and she writes big, thick, dense, terrific historical fiction. Well worth picking up (and hard to put down).

I wonder if he figured out any accommodations (special saddle, armor, bed, etc) to help deal with that serious a curvature. I don't think there's anything in the primary sources, but I would think human ingenuity and the desire for less pain would mean there were some adjustments.

8:04 PM  

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