Richard III proves the past isn't dead.

The past is never dead. It isn’t even past. So said the novelist William Faulkner, and right now I’m inclined to agree. It appears that we may finally know for certain what happened to the body of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, and a grave discovered in a long-suspected location might soon yield an answer for historians. Archaeologists have discovered in Leicester, England a grave that has yielded bones that may very well be those of the Yorkist king. And with that discovery, and the worldwide media coverage, there has come an interest that goes beyond the usual historical community. There are now debates as to where – if this is, indeed, the king – he should be reburied. And the discovery also brings forward old disagreements, with some maintaining that King Richard was no villain, but merely a victim of the old axiom that the victor writes the history. In this case, there are literal examples of that, practically from the time of his death, and extending down generations into the work of Shakespeare, and beyond.

Leicester, England
The Battle of Bosworth put an end to the Wars of the Roses, for the most part, and it featured all the aspects that make a compelling story, or a good argument. Some see a villainous Richard III; others see a king willing to personally lead his knights directly at a pretender. Some see a man, unable to flee from a quagmire of a battlefield; others see a man with the courage and conviction to stand and fight and die a king. Some see the fortunes of battle shift from one side to the other; others see treachery.

As many do, I usually pick a side when I study these battles from the past, often choosing the underdog when there’s not a clear “good guy” fighting. With this battle, as it relates to that war, I can’t even pretend to have a good argument as to who should have won. But I admit that I feel a certain connection to Richard, unhorsed and standing in the mud, fighting to his last, his crown toppling from his head, knowing that the final blow would soon come.

The bones found underneath the car park across from Leicester Cathedral showed signs of such a blow, and more, as well as other physical characteristics historically attributed to King Richard III. DNA testing is underway, and by Christmas we might know whether he has finally been found. If it is proven to be him, then the argument of where he should eternally rest shall begin in earnest. And the other arguments of the past will continue on, but gradually losing their vigor, I suppose. I stood there a few weeks ago – after strolling down Grey Friars and St. Martins streets – and contemplated the passion of those making their respective arguments. To some, the names behind the events of the Wars of the Roses are hazy images in a misty recollection from the past, and they will fade as media coverage subsides: Lancaster, Tudor, York. But these heroes and villains – choose your side – will always be with us. After all, the past is never dead. It isn’t even past.

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