Richard III

These are only replicas.

These are only replicas.

When we were in York, England, this past summer local people were still a little put out over the final resting place of Richard III, who died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Richard’s bones were discovered two years ago (identity confirmed through DNA testing) beneath a parking lot in Leicester. Sic transit gloria mundi. This year a court decided his remains would not be returned to his ancestral hometown, York, but would remain in Leicester (he is scheduled to be buried in Leicester Cathedral in 2015). I am sure this was a blow to York’s civic pride, but there was also the tourist dollars to be considered. Richard III is good for business.

I first became aware of Richard through a novel I read, I think before I was in my teens. Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is, for lack of a better term, an historical mystery. In it a 20th century detective looks at the evidence in a case involving Richard III and the disappearance of his nephews.

Does he look like someone who would murder his nephews?

Does he look like someone who would murder his nephews?

It was an interesting tale, one I have re-read many times since. Ms Tey was definitely sympathetic to the idea that Richard was not the vile murderer of children that much of history (and William Shakespeare) has painted him.

So when in York I went to the Richard III museum, located inside the Monk Bar gate on the old walls of the city (part of which was constructed during Richard`s reign). Vivian, who has not read The Daughter of Time, took a nap instead. Or maybe she went shopping.

I knew just from its location that the museum would be very small. It was also a bit of a disappointment. While the historical information was accurate sand plentiful (and I learned a lot about the Battle of Towton, which I don’t recall ever hearing about before) the artifacts were all replicas of item from Richard’s time.

I have seen that before. The Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam has very few original artifacts, just copies of things from other museums. I found that disappointing too.

It didn’t take long to see all that there was to see, and other than what I gleaned from the film about the Battle of Towton, I can’t say that I learned anything new. So on the way out I asked a staff member why there were no authentic items on display. I had thought perhaps that there might be a scarcity of 500-year-old suits of armor, or something like that.

That wasn’t it. As I said, it is a very small museum. Turns out the cost to insure a collection of 15th century artifacts would have been prohibitive.

That I could understand. Admission was only three-and-a-half pounds, cheap for a museum in such a tourist area, but a fair price given the contents. The cramped (but historic) location means that 20 people would have made it seem really crowded. So there really isn’t much room for growth in terms of visitors – and if they doubled the admission fee to cover extra insurance costs, that might cut down on the number of visitors they attract. Richard III is a niche market I am sure.

If you don't know what a garderobe is perhaps the hole in the floor might be a clue.

If you don’t know what a garderobe is perhaps the hole in the floor might be a clue.

If I hadn’t gone to the museum I would always wonder if I had missed something, so in that regard I am glad I went. But I wouldn’t go back. Of course there is always the new Richard III Centre in Leicester. No wonder the residents of York were upset – it seems as if Richard has been stolen from them.

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