29 Aug 2012

Looking For Richard

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Unknown artist, Richard III, mid-16th century, Society of Antiquaries, London

A search is on in Leicester for the remains of Richard III, slain in battle at Bosworth Field, and then buried at Greyfriars Church. The location of the burial, and even the exact location of the Franciscan Friary, have been lost to five centuries of development.

HuffPo UK reports:

Philippa Langley, from the Richard III Society which has been involved with the project, said: “We know he was buried here but the church disappeared after the dissolution of the monasteries as did his grave so today we begin the search for Richard.

“We know his body was led into Leicester and put on display for three days by Henry Tudor before he was buried.

“I hope we do find him because I want to give him a proper resting place and also to explode a lot of myths around Richard III.”

Richard Buckley, co-director of the Archaeology Service at the university, said: “It is quite a long shot but it’s a very exciting project. We don’t know the whereabouts of any of the friary buildings at the moment. We don’t know precisely where the body would have been buried but we suspect it would be in the choir or near the alter.”

If bones are found they will be assessed for trauma to the skeleton, as the monarch was killed in battle, then be subject to DNA analysis.

King Richard III, the last Plantagenet, ruled England from 1483 until he was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Richard may never be found as there is also a tradition that the late king’s remains were thrown into the River Soar at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.



On 22 August 1485, Richard met the outnumbered forces of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was astride his white courser. The size of Richard’s army has been estimated at 8,000, Henry’s at 5,000, but exact numbers cannot be known. During the battle Richard was abandoned by Baron Stanley (made Earl of Derby in October), Sir William Stanley, and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Despite his apparent affiliation with Richard, Baron Stanley’s wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was Henry Tudor’s mother. The switching of sides by the Stanleys severely depleted the strength of Richard’s army and had a material effect on the outcome of the battle. Also the death of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his close companion, appears to have had a demoralising effect on Richard and his men. Perhaps in realisation of the implications of this, Richard then appears to have led an impromptu cavalry charge deep into the enemy ranks in an attempt to end the battle quickly by striking at Henry Tudor himself. Accounts note that Richard fought bravely and ably during this manoeuvre, unhorsing Sir John Cheney, a well-known jousting champion, killing Henry’s standard bearer Sir William Brandon and coming within a sword’s length of Henry himself before being finally surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed. Tradition holds that his final words were “treason, treason, treason!”, when he found Lord Stanley had turned against him. The Welsh accounts state that Sir Wyllyam Gardynyr killed King Richard III with a poleaxe. The blows were so violent that the king’s helmet was driven into his skull. The account reads, “Richard’s horse was trapped in the marsh where he was slain by one of Rhys Thomas’ men, a commoner named Wyllyam Gardynyr.” Another account has Rhys ap Thomas himself slaying the king.

Polydore Vergil, Henry Tudor’s official historian, would later record that “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”. Richard’s naked body was then exposed, possibly in the collegiate foundation of the Annunciation of Our Lady, and hanged by Henry Tudor, now King Henry VII, before being buried at Greyfriars Church, Leicester. In 1495 Henry VII paid £50 for a marble and alabaster monument. According to one tradition, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries his body was thrown into the nearby River Soar, although other evidence suggests that a memorial stone was visible in 1612, in a garden built on the site of Greyfriars.[18] The exact location is now lost due to over 500 years of subsequent development. On 24 August 2012, the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, have joined forces to begin a search for the mortal remains of King Richard III. Led by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), experts will be seeking to locate the Greyfriars site and discover whether the remains of Richard III may still be found. There is currently a memorial plaque on the site of the Cathedral where he may have once been buried, as well as a stone plaque on the bridge where his remains were allegedly thrown into the Soar.


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