By Carlos Ramos @carlosramos93
Benedict Cumberbatch has said it was extraordinary serendipity that he was told he was related to Richard III while dressed as the king for a role – so we visited Leicester, the city now famous for football – to visit the grave of the royal who still ignites the imaginations of tourists.
The discovery of remains belonging to Britain’s King Richard III, found underneath a Leicester car park in 2015, continue to spark tales that are a mixture between fact and fiction.
And it seems even today as Cumberbatch plays the monarch in the last two parts of BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown, Richard III’s memory is still very much alive.
The king’s skeleton was found in 2012 and last year underneath a Leicester car park, while Cumberbatch was in character as the monarch. He was then told they were cousins.
The monarch was the last English king killed in combat, reigning from 1483 until 1485, when he was assassinated during the Battle of Bosworth Field, a conflict which saw Henry Tudor ascend the throne and establish the Tudor dynasty.
The newly crowned king was uncertain about what to do with the remains of his fallen adversary.
To this day, it remains a mystery.
Oscar-winning Cumberbatch told the Radio Times: “I was literally dressed as Shakespeare’s version of Richard III when I received an email from Leicester University saying that I was a not-altogether-ridiculously-distant descendant of Richard.
“I’m a third cousin 16 times removed, which is still distant, but puts me ahead of an awful lot of other people.”
The 39-year-old actor was asked to read a poem by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy at the reinternment of the the king in Leicester Cathedral.
“To have been present when Richard III found his resting place was moving,” he said. “I was at the burial of a king.”
What is known is that the remains were buried without honour or distinction and ended up lost in time.
However, Richard III followers, over the years, have made it their mission to uncover the missing remains. And this devotion to all things relating to the king and his reign led to the formation of the Richard III Society, founded in order to share knowledge of Richard and the history of England in that period.
In 2012, the research undertaken by the society finally bore fruit when, in collaboration with the University of Leicester, a hugely ambitious archaeological project was undertaken to uncover the lost grave of King Richard III.
An exhumation was performed in a car park within the site of the former Grey friars Friary Church in Leicester, where a male skeletal frame was discovered and on the 4th February 2013, the University announced to the world’s press that these were the remains of King Richard III.
Since then the legend continues to endure and Jackie, a tourist guide who works in Leicester Cathedral, where the remains are now, told us that the body wasn´t found by accident.
“This lady, called Philippa Langley (secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society), showed up one day in the car park. It wasn´t just: ‘look, it´s a car park. She was here for a purpose. In other words, she was there looking for Richard III’.
“She´d done loads of research, and had been searching for years”.
Jackie continued: “The archaeologists came in and started to do maps, and get plans according to facts from medieval times, to be able to find the remains. They couldn´t just dig anywhere”.
Jackie also confirmed that “there was a legend that his bones were thrown to the River Soar, but they weren´t and fortunately for the people that were looking for them, they were in an accessible place, a car park”.
While some archaeologists still cast doubt over whether or not the remains belong to the ill-fated monarch, there is no doubt about the level of human interest in the site.
“A week before he was reinterred at Leicester cathedral, we received people from America and Australia. So it’s brought people all around the World to our city”, said Jackie.
In fact, on the day of this report, the Cathedral was full of tourists, as well as people from the Richard III visitor centre.
People worldwide want to know about the curious story of a king whose remains vanished for centuries only to re-emerge in this modern English city.