Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in Greyfriars Dig, News

‘The Greyfriars Dig:  A New Richard III?’ was the motto of a conference on the Leicester Dig organised by the Richard III Society, which I had the pleasure to attend in Leicester on 2 March 2013.

A whole day with Richard III!  My Ricardian day started at breakfast in the hotel, when I got talking to two other guests, who as it turned out were also here for the conference.  We made our way together to the University of Leicester and had no problem finding the venue, we just needed to follow the stream of people, many of whom wore Ricardian badges or even Ricardian sweaters.  After being warmly welcomed at reception, we made our way to the bookstall – after all, the chance to purchase some of the excellent Society publications without having to pay postage had to be taken advantage of, though I had to keep the weight limitations of my luggage for the flight back in mind.

Entrance to the Peter Williams Lecture Theatre, University of Leicester (photograph by D. Preis)

The Peter Williams Lecture Theatre was packed with nearly 500 participants, though I heard that there were more than twice as many who had wanted to attend, but could not be accommodated.  So I was glad that I had got my registration in early.  I saw some familiar faces and was able to talk to some, who were old friends via email, but whom I had never met face to face.  Though, due to the amount of people, this was not possible in all cases.

The official part began with a welcome by Dr Phil Stone, Chairman of the Richard III Society.  His announcement that the Greyfrairs Dig had been voted as ‘Research Project of the Year’ was met with general applause.  This prestigious archaeology award is each year decided by a poll of the readers of Current Archaeology magazine, and quite a few of the NSW branch members voted as well.

Dr Stone was followed by the Chair of the conference, the MP Chris Skidmore.  Mr Skidmore is the author of Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudors, which will be published on 23 May 2013.  His research for this book brought him to a deeper understanding of Richard III.  He mentioned that for his book he had examined the manuscript of Vergil’s Anglica Historia in the Vatican archives.  With its corrections, this showed Vergil’s thought process much more clearly than the later printed version, on which present translations are based.  This is just one example of contemporary records being extant in a wide variety of archives, which are not easily available to the wider research community.

He compared Richard III negative image to his own experience, where he is mostly pigeonholed as a Conservative MP.  However, he also warned Ricardians to see Richard as a medieval nobleman, rather than limiting our understanding to those qualities which conform to our present day ideas.  If we were to limit ourselves to these facets of his reign, we would fall into the same trap as his detractors do, just the other way round.

Then Annette Carson and Philippa Langley (Richard III Society) took us in a Q&A style format through ‘The “Looking for Richard Project”’.  Philippa explained what had been necessary to bring the whole project together and about all the hiccups she had faced along the way.  Annette added some more general views on Richard as well as the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, stressing that as a disappearance it was a mystery not a murder case.

After a break for morning tea, it was historian Dr John Ashdown-Hill’s turn to talk about ‘The Four Strands of Evidence’.  He also reminded us of how long he had been trying to garner interest and support for an archaeological dig of the Greyfriars site.  The four strands were:  1) evidence that Richard had been buried in the Greyfriars; 2) the similar layout of medieval friaries; 3) dismissal of the misconception that Richard’s bones had been dug up and thrown into the river during the Dissolution and 4) his work in establishing a direct female line descendent of Richard’s mother, Cecily of York.  Dr Stone announced that in acknowledgement of his work, Dr Ashdown-hill had been awarded life membership of the Richard III Society.

‘Richard III, History and Drama’ was presented by Dr Sarah Knight and Dr Mary Ann Lund (University of Leicester).  They looked at how Shakespeare used sources for his play and examined his play in the wider context of other dramatic interpretations of the material during his time.

Then it was time for lunch and more opportunities to make new acquaintances with fellow Ricardians.

Prof Mark Lansdale (University of Leicester) had the unenviable spot to be the first speaker after lunch, but it is highly unlikely that anyone would have nodded off during his fascinating exploration of the ‘Psychological Profile of Richard III’.  He concluded that Richard does not fit the profile of a psychopath, as which he is so often presented.  Instead he suggested that because of the insecurity Richard experienced during his childhood, he showed signs of an intolerance to uncertainty syndrome.  Traits associated with this are piety, a strong sense of right and wrong and loyalty, all traits Richard displayed.  (You can find a summary of his analysis here.)

Unveiling the face of Richard III (photograph by D. Preis)

Then our attention was drawn to a square object covered with a velvet cloth.  This was ceremoniously revealed to be the real face of Richard III, the facial reconstruction carried out at the University of Dundee by Prof Caroline Wilkinson.  Prof Wilkinson explained the reconstruction process in general and this one in particular.  This detailed insight into the scientific information on which a reconstruction is based was highly interesting and informative.

The following tea break gave many of us the opportunity to queue up to look into Richard’s face and to take photographs of it.

Then Dr Toby Capwell (Wallace Collection) talked about ‘Harness for the Differently-Abled:  Armour, Scoliosis and King Richard III’.  He speculated on what type of armour Richard might have worn and explained how this could have been designed to accommodate and disguise his scoliosis.

Bob Woosnam-Savage (Royal Armouries) gave a report on how Richard would have suffered the injuries his remains display.  He warned that this was a preliminary report only as the investigation was ongoing and they were continuing to find new evidence.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Lord Mayor of Leicester) looked at ‘The Future of Richard III in Leicester’.  This includes a Richard III Visitor Centre in the old grammar school next to the Greyfriars site as well as a general focus on making historic sites more accessible for pedestrians.  He also suggested thinking about a more appropriate spot for the Richard III statue in Castle Gardens.  This would be very welcome after my own attempts at taking a photograph of it, which were rather disappointing as the sun was always behind the statue.

The conference finished with a ‘Round up and thanks from the Chairman’.

The designers of the proposed tomb, David and Wendy Johnson, were also present, but unfortunately there was no time for them to talk to us.  The sculptor of the tomb, Graeme Mitcheson, showed photographs of his previous work as well as a beautiful carving of Richard’s boar.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my own thanks to all who made the Greyfriars dig and its findings possible, to all the excellent speakers and last but not least to all those who organized this event.  I can only marvel at the organisation which was necessary to make this day with so many participants run smoothly. It all worked out perfectly.

If you were to ask me whether it was worth travelling half-way around the world for one day in Leicester, my emphatic answer would be ‘most definitely!’.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 13:25 and is filed under Greyfriars Dig, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Trackbacks/Pings

  1. Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive » Review of 13 April 2013 Richard III Society Meeting    Apr 14 2013 / 2pm:

    […] entitled “The Greyfriars dig: a new Richard III”. Dorothea had previously posted elements of her presentation on the branch website for online visitors to […]

  2. Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive » THE LEICESTER CONFERENCE IS ON YOUTUBE!    Apr 20 2013 / 8am:

    […] various talks from the Greyfriars Dig Conference, which took place in Leicester on 2 March this year, are now available on YouTube.  While you will […]

  3. Richard III Society of NSW » Blog Archive » RICHARD’S TEETH    May 11 2013 / 9am:

    […] the king’s crown into his head”.  However, Bob Woosnam-Savage explained at the conference in Leicester that Richard could only have suffered the injuries that killed him after his helmet had been […]

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