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King Richard III


Boffin

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My current home is about five miles from the site of the last battle of the War of the Roses, The Battle of Bosworth Field, which took place on 22 August 1485.

It was at this battle that the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard III was killed, becoming the last English king to die in battle.

The records of the time are sketchy, but it is known that his body was taken to Greyfriars Friary in Leicester, where it was buried in a crude grave in choir of the friary church.

The friary was demolished in 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII and subsequently Richard's tomb was lost. Local legend said that an angry mob had thrown Richard's headless corpse had been thrown into the River Soar at the nearby Bow Bridge, but there was no substantive evidence to support this.

Henry Tudor took the throne, and after a couple more battles secured it. The Richard III society have long campaigned to change the public perception of this much-maligned king. It is a well known saying that History is written by the victor - and Henry Tudor had a great need to discredit Richard III. His claim to the throne was tenuous at best and he needed the country behind him. Medieval politics were brutal but kings had to have the support of the barons and lords which were bought with a mixture of fear and bribery. Those lords in turn relied on their armies, supplied by the manors of England - the lords were well advised to follow the mood of the people as to what the monarchy could get away with (which was quite a lot!). Therefore, discrediting Richard III was one of the key strands of Tudor monarchy.

Most of what we know comes from Shakespeare - a very pubic figure living most of his life in London where his plays entertained the masses - much of his work was bawdy (Elizabethan slang for the penis was 'thing', and for the vagina 'no-thing'. Guess what the subject of the play 'Much Ado About Nothing' is...) and popular. When he wrote a play about a king - another popular theme of the day - he had to keep an eye on his own neck. Elizabeth i was the grand-daughter of Henry Tudor, if he portrayed Richard III as anything other than a monster he would have had a short career.

 

In 2011, there was a growing body of evidence that the lost friary of Greyfriars occupied a plot now largely covered by a car-park belonging to Leicester city council. Moves began to start an excavation to confirm this, and on 25th August 2012 the archeologists opened their firs trench. On that first day a pair of leg-bones were uncovered - these were protected whilst work continued to establish if the remains of the friary were there - and where in the friary the grave that had been discovered lay. This work showed that the grave lay in the friary's choir and so the team applied for a licence to exhume up to six bodies, limited to males in their 30s.

 

The grave was cleaned and a skeleton with a twisted spine was found, showing evidence of hurried burial and possibly with hands bound at the wrist. On 12th September 2012 it was announced that the skeleton was a good candidate to be King Richard III, subsequent scientific analysis of the body supported this - especially a mitochondrial DNA taken from a matrilineal descendant of Richards sister, and on Feb 4th 2013 the team confirmed that the body was that of King Richard III.

 

Yesterday, those remains were taken back to Bosworth field, via the church at Cadeby where Richard took his last communion, to the spot in a field where archeologists had recently unearthed a Plantagenet boar emblem from Richard III's personal guard, where a private ceremony for family members only was held. From there he was taken to Ambion hill for a public ceremony at the Battlefield visitor centre. The simple oak coffin - built by the descendant of King Richard that supplied the DNA - was then taken back to Leicester by the route that most closely matched the direct route of the 15th century.

 

My family and I decided that we should go and pay our respects to this long-lost king as he was taken to Leicester cathedral where he will lay until his re-interment in the cathedral on Thursday 26th March.

 

It was an unusual day in many ways, warm spring sunshine and thousands of people with a mix of celebration and reverence. This was not a day to cheer, but a day to remember. There were people in costume, concession stands, a craft fair and a farmer's market. Everywhere you looked there was people, and white roses - the symbol of the house of York.

Most of all, there was a feeling that it was somehow important to be here, on this day, to remember a fallen king.

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Market Bosworth church (an Autostich panorama)

 

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The simple oak coffin on its way to Leicester, where at Bow Bridge, it was transferred to a horse-drawn gun-carriage and pulled through the city to the cathedral watched by tens of thousands of people of all ages, genders, colours and creeds in England's most multi-cultural city.

 

Andy

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Guest Kakugo

I am pretty happy about the present "revisitation" of history which gives far more balanced accounts than commonly held views.

 

Since you are British you are probably aware how the view about Harold Godwineson's death has changed in recent decades, following research which proved the Carmen de Proelio Hastingi to be a contemporary account of the battle and not a later fake, as originally held.

The long believed account of Harold being killed by a chance arrow to the eye is now held to be most likely Norman propaganda to give the vanquished an anonymous death.

The Carmen instead tells us William ordered a group of his most trusted noblemen, led by his half-brother Odo, to kill the embattled king who, despite his army melting around him, was still holding out with a small group of his huscarls under the Dragon Banner.

According the Medieval mind it was one thing to kill a king in the heat of battle and quite another to purposedly murder him, as militarily and politically convenient as it was. Hence the need for a convenient cover story which satisfied all sides: William came out with a "clean" reputation and Harold died fighting, the name of his killer unknown.

To the Medieval mind it also left open the question if the killing arrow had perhaps being guided by the Divine Providence: after all William was fighting with the Pope's blessing.

 

Sorry for the long thread hijack... :P

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Fascinating stuff, Andy. Thank you for sharing it here. History as written by the victors should cause us all to wonder. Your account was much more meaningful than what I saw here on the "news".

 

And you too Kakugo. Thank you.

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Fascinating stuff, Andy. Thank you for sharing it here. History as written by the victors should cause us all to wonder. Your account was much more meaningful than what I saw here on the "news".

 

And you too Kakugo. Thank you.

 

Yes, I'll echo that. The coverage here was pretty scant, so it's great to see an account of the day from one who was there. Thanks for sharing this!

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Andy, Can you comment on the other coffin found at the site? In the articles I've read it contained a female. Is there any identification yet?

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Andy, Can you comment on the other coffin found at the site? In the articles I've read it contained a female. Is there any identification yet?

 

No, the licence to exhume only permitted the exhumation of males in the target age range, so the female body was not disturbed and as there have been no records yet found showing who she was, her identity remains unknown.

 

One more remarkable coincidence about Richard's grave - it lay beneath car-park space "R".

 

Andy

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Dave McReynolds

The grave was cleaned and a skeleton with a twisted spine was found, showing evidence of hurried burial and possibly with hands bound at the wrist

 

Any significance to "hands bound at wrists?" I understood he was killed in battle. Or was this likely just a way to position the body?

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I realized the permit was limited. I was under the impression from the press articles that the kings remains were found in what was referred to as a "pit" and found it curious that a female was there. I was wondering if there had been any speculation about her relationship,if any, to the king himself. Perhaps a daughter or wife with a claim to the throne?

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No, in fact she was buried in a much higher quality grave. Here is a local news account of her, and several other, burials on the site.

 

Andy

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The grave was cleaned and a skeleton with a twisted spine was found, showing evidence of hurried burial and possibly with hands bound at the wrist

 

Any significance to "hands bound at wrists?" I understood he was killed in battle. Or was this likely just a way to position the body?

 

His body was slung over a horse to be carried to Leicester - the binding of the hands was probably part of tying him to the horse.

 

Andy

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I saw a full documentary that recorded the find of Richard III.

At the end of the document it had not been yet fully established beyond doubt that it was definitely him.

Great to watch.

Thanks for the great write up.

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