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Digging up Richard III?

Anthony Faiola reports in the WaPo on a new development in one of history's oldest murder mysteries.

Tyrant or hero? Rightful monarch or child-killer? Despotic hunchback or brave scoliosis sufferer? Now is the winter of our debate over one of England's most notorious villains: Richard III.

Underneath a drab parking lot 90 miles northwest of London, archaeologists have unearthed what may become one of this nation's finds of the century -- half-a-millennium-old bones thought to be the remains of the long-lost monarch.
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What is clear is this: After decades of war between rival houses, Richard III became the last king of England to fall on the battlefield, slain while defending his crown against a marauding upstart backed by France. That upstart, Henry VII, seeded a House of Tudor that over a century would break with the Vatican, humble mighty Spain and usher in a golden age of British arts, enlightenment and power.

Analysis of the bones may also suggest the extent to which Shakespeare and early historians -- upon whose accounts the writer drew -- took creative license with the king's appearance. He was described in Shakespeare's "Richard III" as a hunchback "so lamely and unfashionable that dogs" barked at him as he went by. But the remains found in Leicester instead suggest a man with a less-dramatic curvature of the spine, likely from scoliosis.

Even Richard III backers tend to acknowledge that he is guilty of locking up the "princes in the tower" -- his two nephews, 12 and 9, who were declared illegitimate so he could seize the throne after the death of his brother Edward IV. But the scant, unclear evidence of their fate -- especially whether he took the step of having them killed -- is now facing its deepest scrutiny in the better part of 500 years.

For his critics, the lost-and-found king cannot escape what history holds to be his most ghastly deed. "England cannot, should not, celebrate a child-killer," said Gareth Russell, British novelist, historical blogger and certainly no friend to Richard III.

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