Philippa Jayne Langley (born 29 June 1962) is a British writer, producer, and Ricardian, who is best known for her role in the discovery and 2012 exhumation of Richard III, as part of the Looking for Richard project, for which she was awarded an MBE. Langley has written books and appeared in film-length documentaries on the search for Richard III and was portrayed in the 2022 film The Lost King.
Langley was born in British Kenya and at the age of two moved with her parents to Blackwell, in Darlington, England. In Darlington, she attended Hummersknott School, and Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College, and embarked on a career in marketing, eventually settling in Edinburgh.
Langley's interest in Richard III began in 1998, when she read American historian Paul Murray Kendall's biography of the king, saying: "... it just blew me away. I thought, this is a man whose real story has never been told on screen, never". Langley had been diagnosed with ME and had abandoned her job in marketing to write a screenplay about Richard III more aligned with historians such as Kendall. Langley formed the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society. In May 2004, she visited various sites in Leicester associated with Richard III, including the three car-parks identified in 1975 as possible burial locations. Langley entered the Social Services car park, and at the northern end felt a "strange sensation" come over her, saying "I knew in my innermost being that Richard's body lay there". In 2005, on completing her first draft, she returned to the car park and experienced the same feeling; when she looked down, someone had painted a reserved "R" over the space; she recounted "it told me all I needed to know".
In 2005, Langley engaged with Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, who had traced Richard's mitochondrial DNA to a living descendant in Canada, thus enabling the identification of any remains. A 2007 dig that failed to find Greyfriars, a possible burial site, prompted further research by Langley, Ashdown-Hill, and independently by Annette Carson, which narrowed the location of Greyfriars to the Social Services car park. In February 2009, at the Cramond Inn in Edinburgh, Langley formed the Looking for Richard project to get the car park excavated, with Dr. David and Wendy Johnson, and later Ashdown-Hill and Carson, and chair of the Richard III Society, Dr. Phil Stone.
In late 2010, Langley won the backing of Leicester City Council (LCC) CEO Sheila Lock for a dig and television documentary to promote Leicester's association with Richard III; if any remains were found, they were to be buried in Leicester Cathedral. LCC would not provide direct funding, but as owners of the car park, they were able to approve and license the excavations, and introduce Langley to local state sponsors, particularly Leicester Promotions. Langley contracted the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) to do the excavations. In August 2011, inconclusive ground penetrating radar results led to withdrawals of sponsorship. Langley led an online crowdfunding appeal to worldwide Richard III Society members, who filled the gap and provided £17,367 of the £32,867 cost for the 2-week excavation. On 25 August 2012, three days after the 527th anniversary of Richard III's death, ULAS commenced the excavation and dug the first trench over the "R" mark, and after a few hours, discovered a skeleton that was later confirmed to be the remains of Richard III.
On 4 February 2013, the University of Leicester presented their results to the world's press (they had funded a 3rd week of excavations, and led the DNA confirmation using Ashdown-Hill's work). Langley felt "sidelined" at the presentation, while the University presented itself as "leading" the search (despite their earlier scepticism). ULAS kept Langley's name off the exhumation licence, even though she was their client; this also gave the University of Leicester control of the remains but inadvertently enabled a legal action by the Plantagenet Alliance that lasted several years.
In late 2022, the situation flared up with the release of The Lost King, a dramatisation of Langley's search. At the film's release, director Stephen Frears said: "They [the University] put a poster on the side of a bus saying 'We found the king!'", and "Well, Leicester University is a corporation and this is really about corporatism". The University issued statements rebutting aspects of the dramatisation in the film, while Langley, and the film's producers, issued their own rebuttals, with Frears saying: "nothing has turned up yet which makes me think we got something wrong".
The Richard III Society released a statement in support of the film, including the recognition of Langley and Ashdown-Hill's roles in the discovery, and the recognition of the importance of the financial commitment that worldwide members of the Society made to the success of the project.
In 2014, Langley started a project to locate the remains of Henry I of England, who was buried at Reading Abbey, but which later fell into ruin, which became the "Hidden Abbey Project". In 2020, Langley said that she believed that the grave of Henry I was beneath the western car park of the former Reading gaol. In 2021, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer joined the crowdfunding programme to begin excavating the site. In 2023, Langley was raising the estimated £55,000 needed for an excavation of the car park, which ironically contained a space marked with a "K".
In 2022, Langley led a "Missing Princes Project" to discover the fate of the Princes in the Tower. In 2023 she claimed to have discovered new evidence that disproved the theory that Richard III was responsible for the deaths of the princes. Along with Rob Rinder, she hosted a Channel 4 programme called Princes in the Tower: The New Evidence, in which she revealed her own theories. The Spectator's reviewer called the programme "a calculated insult to the viewer".
From August 2011 to February 2013, Langley acted as associate producer of the Channel 4 documentary film, Richard III: The King in the Car Park. It won the 2013 Royal Television Society award for History, and was nominated for the 2014 BAFTA award for Specialist Factual. The film was the highest rated specialist factual documentary in Channel 4's history, and led to the follow-up short-documentary film, Richard III: The Unseen Story.
In 2013, Langley co-authored with military historian Michael K. Jones, The King's Grave: The Search for Richard III (the first edition was published in New York with the title The King’s Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds).
In 2013, it was reported that Langley hoped her completed screenplay on Richard III would become a film, with Richard portrayed by English actor Richard Armitage. She had titled her screenplay, Blood Royal, and based it on Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, by Michael K. Jones.
In 2014, Langley detailed the years of research behind the Looking For Richard project that took her to the northern end of the car park in Leicester in search of the church and grave in Finding Richard III: The Official Account of Research by the Retrieval & Reburial Project. The co-authored work includes chapters from Looking For Richard project members, John Ashdown-Hill and David and Wendy Johnson, and was edited by Annette Carson.
In 2022, Langley and Jones re-wrote and expanded their 2013 book under the new title, The Lost King: The Search for Richard III. It was released alongside the film, The Lost King, with Stephen Frears, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope writing the screenplay, and Sally Hawkins playing Langley.
Prior to the discovery, Langley was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), which meant that she had to spend days building up her "sleep-bank" before making excursions to Leicester while researching locations for Richard III's remains.
She was married but later separated from her husband, John Langley; they have two sons. In 2022, Steve Coogan, who plays John Langley in The Lost King said "... they've got a very interesting relationship because they're not married anymore, but they both still love each other, and they're still in each other's lives", and "I've never seen that depicted on screen before ... and I wanted to just show that."
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