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Editorial comment

Last month, a 600 year old mystery was finally solved in a car park in my hometown of Leicester. There, the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, were found, buried beneath the choir of the long-lost Grey Friars priory. The grave had been dug in haste and the body crammed in: hardly the most fitting end for a king, but that is what happens when you lose in a game of thrones, as Richard had just done, to Henry Tudor (later to become Henry VII), at the Battle of Bosworth Field.


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Last month, a 600 year old mystery was finally solved in a car park in my hometown of Leicester. There, the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, were found, buried beneath the choir of the long-lost Grey Friars priory. The grave had been dug in haste and the body crammed in: hardly the most fitting end for a king, but that is what happens when you lose in a game of thrones, as Richard had just done, to Henry Tudor (later to become Henry VII), at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Richard’s legacy has been dominated by the Tudors since: Shakespeare (gainfully employed by the Tudor crown) famously portrays Richard as a hunchback with a limp and withered arm: a “lump of foul deformity” and “diffused infection of a man”. He was a villain of history: the accused murderer of Henry VI, Henry’s son Edward, George Duke of Clarence, Lord Hastings and his own two nephews, the princes in the Tower.

The discovery of his body lays some of these myths to rest: there was no withered arm, although his spine was severely twisted, putting one shoulder higher than the other. His many positive achievements have also already been uncovered: he was a highly competent administrator of the north of England and brought in special courts to hear the complaints of the poor; he abolished the system of benevolences (taxes disguised as gifts to the king and thus outside of the control of Parliament) and banned curbs on the new technology of printing.

And yet the image of Richard malignantly “dragging his spider-body round and round the stage of history” persists in public conscience: perception remains stubbornly different to reality.1 The re-interment of his body to a more fitting tomb in Leicester Cathedral (as well as a planned new visitor centre) may in time help to rehabilitate his memory, but I suspect there will always be a shadow of villainy cast over this enigmatic king.

The difference between perception and reality is one that is familiar to anyone working in the coal industry. Long considered a dirty industry, the industry’s commitment to safety, its contribution to poverty reduction through the provision of cheap energy and its support of economic growth in the emerging world are often overlooked – or simply go unknown.

By 2017, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that coal will be close to passing oil as the world’s top energy source. Its use will grow in every area of the world apart from the US, where it will be pushed out by natural gas. But it is in emerging economies where its use will grow most. As Milton Caitlin, CEO of the World Coal Association has commented, this is “good news” for the world’s poor: “It means developing countries will have access to an abundant, affordable and reliable fuel source to meet their growing energy needs well into the future, powering homes and businesses and lifting millions out of poverty.” As with England’s last Plantagenet, a public reassessment of the industry is long overdue.


1. “Obituary: Richard III”, The Economist (9 – 15 February 2013), p. 90.


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