26. Jul, 2014

Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester

With the Richard III Visitor Centre opening this weekend, the ‘Looking For Richard Project’ team is saddened and profoundly disappointed by the exhibition.

Insofar as it purports to represent us, it has belittled and sidelined our work despite our members’ years of research and ground-breaking discoveries. It has removed acknowledgement that Philippa Langley commissioned the archaeologists; it has deleted Philippa’s references to the crucial financial support provided by Ricardians that enabled the exhumation of the king; it has positioned the director of the archaeological contractors, ULAS, as the determining force behind decisions made at the dig, while deliberately excising Philippa’s role, as the fee-paying client, whose authorisation (and extra payment) were what actually secured the exhumation of Richard III in the face of the archaeologists’ scepticism. We know this was deliberate because the City Council, the nominal organisers of the exhibition, admitted that they had been instructed by the University of Leicester to change Philippa’s previously agreed wording. This remains an issue that will need to be resolved if Philippa is to continue being associated with the display.

Particularly insulting is the repositioning of the genealogical record painstakingly compiled by Dr John Ashdown-Hill, which has been placed, against our wishes, in the section that boasts of the university’s achievements, instead of where it belongs within the ‘Looking For Richard Project’.

None of our team accepted our invitations to the opening. The concerns we have registered in writing and in meetings are not taken seriously and remain unresolved. They have been overridden by the university’s insatiable desire to position itself as the driving force behind the search for Richard III, rather than – as all Ricardians know – the interlopers who stepped in and grabbed overall control.

As regards the exhibits, we find especially offensive their ghoulish display of a projected image of the king’s remains lying in his grave. Careful agreements had been put in writing to prevent exploitative use of such sensitive images, now cynically cast aside. We know this will be devastating not only to those who had trusted that the discovery of Richard’s remains would be conducted with dignity, but indeed to all civilised visitors who believe in the concept of respect for the dead.

Other grotesque exhibits include the white-painted depiction of the king’s armour resembling a Storm Trooper from Star Wars, despite representatives of the council and university having attended the presentation by Dr Tobias Capwell in March 2013 (available on YouTube) where he described his armour and illustrated its actual probable appearance. As an example of the organisers’ taste in these matters, it was only by strenuous insistence that we removed the planned visual which was to greet visitors: the central throne was to be drenched in a sickening pool of blood which dripped down to form words written in blood on the floor below.

It seems the city will go to any lengths to imply spurious historic links with Richard III, as we see in the unattributed reproduction of the 1485 minute from the York City records, well known to all Ricardians as that city’s statement of regret at his death. Presumably by omitting any attribution they hope visitors will think it was written by Leicester. We are demanding that it be credited to the proper source.

These are just a few of the issues that our project has been grappling with. But it should not be overlooked that the history of the Wars of the Roses and Richard’s lifetime has also been subjected to manipulation.

They started off so well: commissioning me to write the display text and promising to liaise with proper specialist historians on aspects like the armour, the heraldry, and the battle of Bosworth itself. Then the person in charge ‘left suddenly’ and my text was ‘lost’ – allowing the Thought Police to take over and rewrite everything to suit their version of history. However, they couldn’t cut me out completely because when the Richard III Society was given the last-minute opportunity to review the replacement text, I was brought in alongside Phil Stone and Wendy Moorhen. In attempting to set Richard’s record straight I remember one particular 5-hour meeting in London: it lasted 5 hours because the new text was so secret (secret?!) that we weren’t permitted to see it before the meeting OR keep a record of our amendments. Philippa was scheduled to see it a couple of weeks later with those changes supposedly in place ... and it is a testament to their continued underestimation of Philippa’s intellect that they clearly thought she wouldn’t spot where our corrections had been ignored. Wrong! You can’t fool Philippa Langley when it comes to someone whose life she has written a screenplay about!

Of course by cloaking it in secrecy they avoided the inconvenience of showing us everything, so we have no idea whether the factual amendments stipulated by the Richard III Society to the bits we saw were ever implemented. Please, therefore, we beg you: no matter what they claim, do not suppose that the text exhibited at the Visitor Centre has been approved by the Society or by the ‘Looking For Richard Project’.