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The Lost King: Philippa Langley On Helping Dig Up King Richard III’s Bones


The new film The Lost King is about one of the most important historical discoveries in recent years: the unearthing of the bones of Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester in 2012. It’s also the story of a remarkable woman, Philippa Langley, and her efforts to find the king’s remains against all the odds.

Played by Sally Hawkins, with Steve Coogan as her former husband, Philippa is shown facing ridicule as she becomes fascinated by Richard and determined to change the perception of him as the evil hunchback we know from Shakespeare’s play.

For almost a decade, Philippa, a mother of two who had to quit her job in advertising when she was diagnosed with ME, painstakingly researched his possible burial location. After Richard’s defeat by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, when he was killed by Tudor soldiers, some historians thought his body had been dumped in the River Soar, while others maintained it had been buried in Greyfriars church in what is now Leicester city centre.

Philippa’s findings led her to believe the latter was true – and during a trip to Leicester, she stood in the adult social services car park and felt a strong intuition that he was there. She battled to rally academics, council officials and fellow supporters of Richard Plantaganet – known as Ricardians – to the cause of digging up the king whose grave was thought to have been lost forever.

On August 25, 2012, she was vindicated when Richard’s remains were found, attracting worldwide interest and breathing new life into research of his life.

Here, Philippa, 60, tells Polly Dunbar what motivated her inspiring search and how it feels for the new film, directed by Stephen Frears and co-written by Coogan, to finally put her story centre stage.

Q: When did your fascination with Richard III begin?
A: In 1992, when I bought a book about Richard. It was based on contemporary source materials from his own lifetime, and there was overwhelming evidence for him being loyal, brave, pious – just the complete 180 to who I thought I was going to be reading about, which is the Shakespearean character. That really got me hooked, because I couldn’t understand. Why do they keep telling that story the whole time?

Q: What else did you learn about Richard that surprised you?
A: He introduced three legal principles that we still rely on today: the presumption of innocence, blind justice, and clear title to property [proof of ownership].

Q: So how did the view of him as hunched and scheming become so entrenched?
A: The victors write the story. It was quite necessary for Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, to ensure that Richard was seen as being less, because he wanted to portray himself as a saviour. And then Shakespeare went with that narrative. I think if Shakespeare hadn’t written a play about him, it might have been a bit different.

Q: He’s perhaps best known for murdering the two Princes in the Tower: his 12-year-old nephew Edward V, who was expecting to crowned king following the death of his father, Edward IV, and nine-year-old Richard. What do you believe happened?
A: There’s no evidence for any murder, whether by Richard or anyone else. There’s loads of rumour, hearsay and gossip but no evidence. I’m working on a huge research initiative called The Missing Princes Project and next year, there will be a major announcement.



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