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Relics From Richard II’s Tomb Discovered In Museum

November 17, 2010

An assistant archivist at the National Portrait Gallery was conducting research on the museum’s founder when he made an astonishing discovery–relics from the tomb of medieval British King Richard II sitting, unbeknownst to the world, in a cigarette box.

The artifacts were uncovered by Krzysztof Adamiec, who had been going through the diaries and notebooks of National Portrait Gallery founder Sir George Scharf. Adamiec was cataloging Scharf’s papers when he discovered the box, which was dated August 31, 1871 and contained wood, leather and fabric fragments from Richard’s tomb, as well as sketches of his skull and bones.

According to Reuters, records showed that, on the date in question, Scharf, who died in 1895, was on hand at an opening of the royal graves at England’s Westminster Abby.

Furthermore, the news agency says that a piece of leather found in the cigarette box corresponded to a sketch of a glove that was contained within the king’s coffin. The wood, according to Guardian Arts Correspondent Mark Brown, is likely to have come from the coffin itself.

Adamiec told Brown that the discovery was “very surprising.” He said that the container which housed the relics “just looked like a simple, empty box of cigarettes”¦ but when I opened it up there were strips of leather and pieces of wood. It was very exciting for me–it’s one of the biggest pleasures of this job to literally feel that you are touching history.”

Furthermore, as Adamiec told The Telegraph, the find “reveals the hidden potential of Scharf’s papers,” which include more than 200 notebooks and sketchbooks from the museum’s first 38 years of existence. “Scharf meticulously recorded almost everything he saw and experienced. In reading his papers, one is able to reconstruct in minute detail ‘a day in the life of a Victorian gentleman.’”

The Telegraph also reports that Scharf attended exhumations of Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York, and that his sketches of Richard II “are so faithfully drawn that archivists believe they could be used to reconstruct the king’s appearance.”

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