Despite claims to the contrary, fake news was not invented by Donald Trump. It’s not even a recent phenomenon. This week I was fortunate enough to spend some time at De Montfort University (DMU). The University is situated near the centre of the city of Leicester in the English Midlands. In many ways, it’s a typical English provincial city – a mix of ancient and modern architecture; a river flowing through its centre; a railway station linking the city to neighbouring urban centres. In recent years, though, Leicester’s fame has increased significantly due to two remarkable facts : in May 2016, against all the odds, Leicester City Football Club won the English FA Premier League; and in August 2012, the skeleton of Richard the third was found under a local authority car park in the city centre.
Richard the third has arguably been the victim of a lot of fake news since his death in 1485. The image of the deformed, scheming infanticide, who ordered the death of his nephews to prevent their rightful accession to the throne on the death of his brother, Edward IV, is largely based on the narrative of the Shakespearian play. The reality was perhaps much more nuanced. The Richard III Society was formed in the early part of the 20th Century to begin to strip away the spin and legend that had grown up around the ‘hunchback king’. Their aim was to replace it with a more historically accurate analysis of his life and times. It is through their work (both as amateur historians and in funding more academic research) that we now know exactly where Richard was buried after defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
We also have a much more rounded appreciation of the king who did much to promote fair play and justice in the operation of the English legal system; and was a generous and enlightened supporter of the church – endowing colleges and chapter houses across the country to allow the better training and preparation of priests.
Leicester is rightly proud of its part in the history of England and the place that it plays in the biography of Richard III. The visitor centre celebrating Richard’s life and protecting his burial place are among the newest additions to the city’s cultural offering and look well worth a visit. I will certainly be making the effort to go back and find out more about this remarkable story.