Relics of King Richard II are discovered in gallery vaults

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The Independent Online

Archivists at the National Portrait Gallery have discovered relics from the tomb of King Richard II hidden in one of the building's underground vaults. The extraordinary find was made by staff cataloguing the papers of the gallery's first director, George Scharf.

According to experts, Scharf removed the relics – fragments of wood and fabric – when the king's grave was exhumed from Westminster Abbey in the late 19th century. Richard II died at the beginning of the 15th century.

"I guess Scharf kept the pieces as souvenirs," said Krzysztof Adamiec, a gallery assistant archivist. "He also very precisely sketched the King's bone measurements, so if anyone was interested, they could very accurately reconstruct his appearance. Scharf was especially fond of keeping collections. I guess it was the spirit of the age."

The contents of a cigarette box, dated 31 August 1871, were only identified as relics from a royal tomb after an intense cataloguing operation, when it became possible to cross-reference the box's date with entries from an associated diary.

Scharf's papers include 230 notebooks and sketchbooks in which he had made detailed notes and drawings. There is a drawing of Winston Churchill as a child and the former director's observations on British private and public art collections.