ARCHAEOLOGY

Relics From King Richard II's Tomb

Relics from the tomb of the medieval English King Richard II -- including wood from his coffin and sketches of his skull -- have been found by London's National Portrait Gallery.

An archivist at London's National Portrait Gallery has found relics from the tomb of King Richard II while cataloguing the papers of a Gallery director. Among the hundreds of diaries and notebooks left behind in boxes not opened for years were contents from the medieval English king's coffin -- and sketches of his skull and bones.

National Portrait Gallery, London

Richard II, King of England

Richard II ruled from 1377 to 1399 when he was succeeded by Henry IV. Many historians believed he died of starvation while in captivity in 1400. The Gallery said that King Richard II's tomb was opened in 1871 for cleaning; many individuals were present at the event (including the Gallery's director) probably because they wanted to determine whether the king was killed by the blow of an axe -- something his skull showed no evidence of.

Objects Taken From the Grave

A cigarette box was discovered containing objects that the National Portrait Gallery's first director took from the grave of Richard II during his visit to Westminster Abbey on August 30, 1871. The contents of the box were identified as relics from a royal tomb following cataloguing, when it became possible to cross-reference the date on the front of the box with diary entries and sketches made on the same day. The box contained fragments of wood, possibly from the coffin itself, and some fabric. 

National Portrait Gallery, London

The Skull of Richard II

The Gallery’s founding director also made careful sketches of the skull and bones of the king, including detailed measurements. The sketches are so faithfully drawn that they could possibly be used to reconstruct the king’s true appearance.

National Portrait Gallery, London

Sketching a Skull

Scharf also witnessed the opening of the graves of Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York. His careful sketches of Richard II's skull and bones sat among hundreds of diaries and notebooks left in boxes not opened for years, the Gallery said.

National Portrait Gallery, London

Diary Entry: August 30, 1871

Gallery director Scharf's diary entry for the day recorded his inspection of the royal graves at Westminster Abbey. "It was a very exciting discovery and one that reveals the hidden potential of Scharf's papers," said Krzysztof Adamiec, a National Portrait Gallery assistant archivist who was working on the Scharf papers.

National Portrait Gallery, London

Relics From King Richard II's Tomb

Relics from the tomb of the medieval English King Richard II -- including wood from his coffin and sketches of his skull -- have been found by London's National Portrait Gallery.

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