This is a totally fascinating and compelling book and is as exciting as an adventure story. It tells how Philippa Langley became interested in Richard III and determined to find his grave having had a feeling she knew exactly where it was. The task was taken on by an archaeological unit in Leicester which undertakes digs for the construction industry and local authorities when new building work is taking place to ensure than historical evidence is not overlooked and destroyed.
Their investigation had two aims - to find the site of the long demolished Grey Friars in the centre of Leicester and also to try and find Richard III's grave. Richard Buckley, the head of the archaeological unit thought finding Richard III's grave was a totally outside chance but he did believe they would find Grey Friars as all the records pointed to the area where they were going to dig.
The book is well written with plenty of notes at the end of the book and a bibliography for those who want to read more about Richard III and the investigation. I was completely absorbed in this book to the extent that I read for about three hours yesterday afternoon without moving. It is that sort of book. If you've every watched Time Team or similar archaeological programmes you will love this.
on 3 May 2014
This book has been read with genuine interest and pleasure. It will be kept on my shelves alongside Paul Murray Kendall, Josephine Tey, and other more academic volumes, as a perfect reference source for the memorable Leicester dig. It not only provides the technical information I’d hoped for, I loved the gentle humour which reminded me of archaeologists I’ve known. I particularly appreciate the Leicester team’s opinion that the dig’s outcome wasn’t normal because it certainly was not! Your book fills gaps left by the Channel 4 production of the ‘King in the Carpark,’ and particularly pleases by awarding praise where praise was due. Archaeology has done well for Richard during the last few years. Bosworth battlefield site is more accurately identified than before, the defeated king has been resurrected, all that’s left is for documents to be discovered proving he didn’t murder his nephews (though there's little chance of that). My feelings remain divided between sincere admiration and utmost respect for work done by the Leicester team, and desire to see the king’s remains reburied in York, though thanks to your book I can now fully understand why that almost certainly won’t happen). I really do congratulate and thank you for producing such a well-written and informative publication. I’m sure it will be regarded as essential reading for many future archaeologists and historians.
on 27 May 2014
Brilliant - really informative, and quite complex in places, but very readable. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it.
This book gives a fascinating account of the archaeological dig which unearthed the bones of Richard III under a car park in Leicester. Although the bones were confirmed as Richard III's remains in February 2013 the dig began in August 2012 and, of course, the background goes back many years before that. The book begins with a summary of Richard's life - the last English monarch to die in battle. There are also all the rumours about where Richard was supposedly buried and what might have become of his body - including myths it was later thrown into a nearby river.
It was screenwriter Philippa Langley, along with the extremely capable and enthusiastic, Richard III Society, who eventually approached archaeologist Richard Buckley with the idea of searching for Richard's remains. Philippa Langley's story is an intriguing one; she became interested in Richard II almost by chance and, instinctually, she felt he was buried in the car park when she visited there. It is easy, in this scientific study, to overlook such things as human intuition - but I am not sure you can ignore them completely. Certainly, Philippa Langley did her research, but her cold shivers while standing in a Leicester car park, is certainly part of the story.
It is fair to say that, even while the University of Leicester were brought on side, their priorities were different from those of Philippa Langley and the Society. While Langley was clear that her interest was in finding Richard III, Richard Buckley and his team were more interested in discovering the church of the Greyfriars, where he was rumoured to be buried, and which lay in the area of the dig. Indeed, Richard Buckley informed Philippa Langley that they were unlikely to be successful is discovering much, but she was optimistic. Indeed, despite setbacks and lack of funding, it was an astonishing dig - with major finds, including those of the skeleton which was later proven to be Richard III, coming thick and fast.
I really enjoyed this book. It is well told, from the very beginning, through all the testing and research done later - from the excavation to the DNA testing and facial reconstruction. Of course, the research continues, but already we have learnt more about how Richard III loved, died, was buried and later forgotten. This dig was full of controversy, but also made possible by effort and enthusiasm. If you are interested in discovering how Richard III was found and the background behind the search, this is a very interesting, and well written, read.
on 8 January 2015
Superb! If you watched the television documentary about the dig in the Leicester car-park, you may think you don't need to read this book. You do! It gives you so much more than the excellent documentary about the finding of King Richard III. The first part, for example, explains how the situation that led to his death at the Battle of Bosworth came about. It is complicated, but it is fact, and the author can't help that that is what happened, and that people were changing sides and allegiances while plots were thickening all the time. Instead, he writes about it as clearly and succinctly as he can. And then moves on to the mission itself, with one set of people looking for Richard, the others, the archaeologists, realising there was very little chance of finding him and concentrating instead on finding a friary. That they found King Richard - straight away! - gives nothing away, because the documentary told us that, but the book adds so much to the television programme, and the author tells it in a way that makes this into a page-turner (well, in my case, a Kindle page-turner), very difficult to put down. The human side is here too, with a famous writer who is convinced they will find King Richard and won't be put off by any number of professionals telling her that that sort of thing just doesn't happen; and, fortunately, highly-skilled and talented archaeologists, who know exactly how to go about such a difficult task. Marvellous, fascinating book, not dry at all (well, perhaps the first part about who-did-what-to-who can be - my advice is either don't even try to work out the various allegiances, or to write every one down as you go along, so you can keep referring back), but is every bit as thrilling as a novel, while having the added advantage of telling the reader all about true historical events uncovered by modern archaeological methods and skill. Great book, highly recommended.
on 28 May 2014
Much has been written about the excavation of the remains of Richard III, but nearly all from a journalistic viewpoint. Mike Pitts is an archaeologist (as is this reviewer) and also Editor of the respected 'British Archaeology,' magazine of the CBA. Mike writes authoritatively about the problems and triumphs of the archaeologists involved, without denigrating the work of the historians and journalists.
One disappointing feature is the lack of colour in the illustrations. Perhaps this is a result of economies at the publishers? Whatever, the subject cries out for colour.
For those who have been fascinated by the discovery of the remains of King Richard III in Leicester, Mike Pitts' excellent account of the background, preparation, discovery and identification stages of the project does this amazing historical, archaeological and scientific achievement justice. The book both amplifies and puts into context the events shown in the Channel 4 "King in the Car Park" documentary, and to some extent explains and foretells the argy bargy and discord that the following two years have seen over the extensive testing and above all the disputed burial place for England's last Plantagenet King.
Pitts is a professional archaeologist, and clearly has close links to the Leicester University team. There is quite a lot of technical detail which he explains in a lucid and uncomplicated way for the lay reader. He has a keen analytical eye for the human interactions, too - he understands and to an extent sympathises with the Ricardians - seeing that their romanticised and passionate advocacy of the King would inevitably create tensions with the extensive forensic investigation that followed the discovery. Neutral he may not be, but he's honest and generous with the credit he gives to all those involved and rightly so.
If I had the teensiest criticism with the book, it is that the technical detail tends to leave you wanting more, for instance he introduces the issue of the remarkable preservation of the bones, not only from the almost constant redevelopment of the area around the Greyfriars Priory, but also that Leicester's geology (the lack of building stone means from Roman times onwards, one era's buildings were plundered and recycled to build the next) preserved the bones when in other places they would have dissolved away ... and leaves that hanging. Never mind, above all Mr Pitts is an engaging and wryly humorous storyteller, in some passages I was reminded of the characters (based on Philip Larkin's experiences at Leicester University) in Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim". Well, lucky us, and I look forward to any further books he cares to write ... surely this epic will run and run!
on 28 September 2015
If you buy one book about the celebrated Richard 111 discovery, this is it. I have admired Mike Pitts' writing for a long time, both for style and readability but also trustworthy detail and references. This paperback printing is brought up to date with added chapters and deals with, sometimes contentious issues surrounding the history of the last Plantagenet King, expertly and evenhandedly.
on 20 June 2014
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I recommend it anyone even faintly interested in the topic--for a good read. Trust a Yorkshire lass--she tells it how she finds it.
on 1 December 2014
Having watched the documentary of the discovery of Richard's body with baited breath and having felt carried along with the excitement and sense of vindication when the DNA tests finally proved positive I was unsure whether this book would be able to really add anything to that extra-ordinary experience. But this story is so compelling that it will, I am sure, continue to be told and retold for centuries to come. I found that Mike Pitt's book, following hot on the heels of Phillipa Langley's account of events, has proved to be a fitting complement and commentary to the unprecedented events that unfolded in the Leicestershire car park in August 2012 and found myself again vicariously caught up in in the drama of it all even though, by now, of course I fully knew the outcome. Now some distance has passed since the discovery of the body, though no historian, I find myself reflecting again on the conundrum that has exercised so many minds over the years. What manner of man was this king? Richard III as an idea: the Shakespeare Villain, the Tudor fall guy, the forgotten hero king : must be reconsidered when we look at that extra-ordinary skeleton and reflect that this was a real man, living breathing, loving, doubting, hoping, reacting to political events and family tragedy that rained down upon his short life at a pace that few modern day politicians or monarchs could have withstood. Perhaps Richard did order the death of his royal nephews. Perhaps he truly believed that that was a decision that would save the country from further bloodshed and civil war. Perhaps he was ignorant of their fate. But whatever else the dig revealed it revealed a man who died as eye witness accounts said, courageously and for his country. For that alone he deserves the re-appraisal of history.