Richard III was an English king best known as the subject of a play by William Shakespeare. Richard III assumed the throne in June 1483, and during his tumultuous reign he was subject to two insurrections. The first he successfully repelled. In the second, which culminated in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the 32-year-old king was killed.

In 2012, Richard III's long-forgotten remains were discovered and exhumed from underneath a parking lot in Leicester. Historians and devotees of England's last reigning Plantagenet have studied the remains, and exulted in the centuries-overdue, posthumous attention. This week Richard III will receive a proper burial.

Nancy Koehn is a historian at Harvard Business School. Koehn said recent enthusiasm about the dead king is a response to the treatment he received from Shakespeare in Richard III.

"The protagonist kills his nephews. [...] He kills the next brother in line, Clarence. [...] He kills his wife to marry another woman. [This was] a play that is literally written in gorgeous prose that is just a litany of evil," Koehn said. "He is a little greasy, both about his sexuality with women, and about the violence that his hands and his lips bring forth."

Koehn said Shakespeare may have played fast and loose with historical details for dramatic effect.

"[But] whether he was as good as his very, very devoted fans — his groupies in the Richard III Society — maintain, I think [that's] an open question."

Koehn said the catch is that without Richard III, we wouldn't know about Richard III.

"I don't think we would [remember him]. He didn't reign for very long. He reigned just for a couple of years, and he reigned for all these changeovers," Koehn said. Because of "the revolving door of power in that century in England, [...] I think he could've very easily slipped through the file folder cracks."

Koehn said that revivalists have trained a "soft, fuzzy lens" on his legacy.

"According to some accounts, Richard III was absolutely focused on bringing justice, including having honest people" as jurors in English courts, Koehn said. "I think that's a bit of a stretch. [...] Most of the time he was busy fending of threats to his authority. I don't think this was someone who was pushing the boundaries" in the name of a more just legal system.

"We want to be careful about not swinging the pendulum all the way over to one side," Koehn said.

>>Nancy Koehn is a historian at Harvard Business School. You can catch her every Tuesday on Boston Public Radio. Koehn is the author of Ernest Shackleton: Exploring Leadership.