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Race to unearth a royal mystery

COLUMN ONE

Archaeologists have till Sunday to hunt for the bones of Richard III, a king synonymous with villainy, under a Leicester parking lot.

September 05, 2012|Henry Chu

She's therefore a staunch member of the camp that wants to rehabilitate Richard from the image of the scheming, treacherous brute indelibly characterized -- or caricatured -- by Shakespeare. Revisionists take a page instead from the 1951 detective classic "The Daughter of Time" by Josephine Tey, which depicts Richard as an able, respected and unfairly maligned leader. (The book's title derives from philosopher Francis Bacon's observation that "truth is rightly named the daughter of time.")

Richard's supporters note that it was he who popularized the presumption of innocence and the granting of bail in matters of justice, linchpins of the British and American legal systems.

"For this king to then suffer the great injustice that we potentially feel he has been given, it's the irony of ironies," Langley said, shaking her head. "It makes me cross."

Then again, Richard would hardly exert such a hold on the public imagination if not for Shakespeare's famous tragedy.

In fact, the hunt for Richard's remains comes amid a flurry of renewed interest in the play.

Last year in London, Oscar winner Kevin Spacey was widely acclaimed for his portrayal of a snarling, scenery-chewing Richard, with nary a sniff of critical disdain over his American accent. Currently, Mark Rylance, perhaps Britain's greatest living stage actor, is essaying the role in a new, also well-received production.

In a potentially good omen for Buckley and Langley, archaeologists revealed in 2010 that they had definitively identified the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, whose exact location had long been a source of debate.

The announcement followed the discovery of numerous lead balls used as shot by Richard's troops (and possibly Henry's), pieces of medieval armor and, most remarkable of all, a badge of pure silver, barely an inch long, in the shape of a boar: Richard III's personal emblem. The badge probably belonged to one of his closest confidants, who was at his side in battle that day.

"That was the key piece," said archaeologist Glenn Foard.

He's not involved in the investigation of what happened next to the vanquished king. But he wishes Buckley and the others well.

"That's closing the loop. It's the last piece of the jigsaw," Foard said. "But whether they'll find it is another story."

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henry.chu@latimes.com

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