King Richard III Visitor Centre Leicester Reviews
A fascinating study of a well-storied Monarch Dec 01, 2014
The discovery of Richard III's bones under a Leicester car park caused quite a stir back in 2012. The subsequent renewed interest in this most controversial of English Kings ultimately resulted in the opening of this fascinating visitor centre earlier this year, which makes the otherwise unremarkable East Midlands city of Leicester worth a visit.
The centre is effectively divided up, so that both history buffs and novices alike will come away feeling they've learned something new. It is the latter who will gain most from the ground floor exhibits. Things start off with a short, rolling movie, in which actors in period costume play the roles of influential figures in Richard's formative years. The walls of the 'throne room' flanking the movie provide context on the Wars of the Roses, the civil war that caused turmoil across the kingdom that Richard found himself embroiled in from a very young age.
The rest of the ground floor is given over to Richard's brief and ill-starred time on the throne. From the early power struggles, culminating in the mysterious disappearance of the 'Princes in the Tower' that cast a shadow over his reign, through to his death in battle a mere two years later, no stone is left unturned. The level of detail about the Battle of Bosworth Field is impressive indeed, and there's a real sense that, for all the bad we associate with his reign, Richard actually did a lot of good too, with the centre particularly keen to point out how brave he was in death.
The first floor sets about debunking the myths around Richard, most famously perpetuated by Shakespeare, and then goes in to what has to be the highlight of the centre: the story of the discovery of his bones. It's amazing to think now that those who searched for them actually felt finding his grave was a 'one in a million' shot. Their stated aim was to uncover the Greyfriars Church Richard was purportedly buried in, with anything else they uncovered a bonus.
You can feel the excitement grow as you read the 'dig diary' of Philippa Langley, the member of the Richard III society who proposed the dig. After this, the first floor ends with some hands on, interactive exhibits explaining the science that went behind proving that the bones were definitely that of the King. Particularly notable, in a morbid way, is the scale skeleton model complete with audio explanations of the wounds on his bones, plus the facial reconstruction of what he probably looked like.
Last but not least is the grave site. The bones themselves are long since gone, stored in a secure location elsewhere in Leicester (for now - the subject of their reinterment has been the cause of fierce debate, with nearby Leicester Cathedral, Yorkminster and Westminster Abbey all staking a claim). But a hologram helpfully indicates where the bones were actually found. The grave itself may be firmly encased behind plexi-glass, but getting up close to the 500+ year resting place of arguably England's most notorious monarch is still a goose-pimples moment.
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