British archaeologists hope to find the lost remains of King Richard III by digging up a car park believed to be his burial site.
Richard III – the small and slender villain of Shakespeares play died at Bosworth Field on the 22 of August 1485. The Lancastrians and their leader, Henry Tudor, won the battle. Following the battle, Richards’s dead body was transported back to Leicester and placed on public view. Subsequently he was buried in the choir of the Franciscan Church in Leicester
However, this Franciscan priory known as Greyfriars, was demolished in 1538 when the monastery was dissolved, and its roofs and lead was sold. In 1612 a mansion was built on the site and a stone pillar was erected to mark the site of Richard’s grave. After 1914 land and gardens were sold to the County, which erected offices around it and even this marker disappeared. Finally it was turned into a car park and tarmaced in 1940. The only physical remnant of the church is a small piece of a grey stone-wall, which can be seen next to the attendant’s hut in the car park.
After the dissolution in 1538 it was rumoured that the remains of Richard were thrown into the River Soar. However researchers at the University of Leicester now think they be able to discover the actual site of the grave, situated somewhere beneath the car park. Even if Richard no longer lies there it is important to determine the actual layout of the church and the original position of the grave, says Richard Buckley, Co-Director of the Archaeology Service at the University of Leicester.
- The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site, and also where in the church the body was buried, says Richard Buckley, co-director of Leicester University’s archaeology service, adding: “Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long-shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically. There is certainly potential for the discovery of burials within the area, based on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church.”
If any remains are found it is hoped that it will be possible to have them undergo DNA-analysis at the University in order to compare them to the findings of Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, author of “The Last days of Richard III”. This very detailed (and recommendable) account of the last months in the life of Richard III presents the reader with not only a nuanced description of his daily routines as a king, but also a very interesting description of his actual burial and how and where it took place. Another account by David Baldwin is available here.
One of the initiators of the whole project is Philippa Langley, who is currently researching for a film, which is meant to tell the “real” story of Richard III, which according to her hides behind the spin of the Tudors who took over from the last Plantagenet. She is a screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society as well.
Visitors will not be able to view the dig once it commences, as it will take place at an operational council area, which is not publicly accessible. Further it is necessary to keep the dig as a so-called clean site in order to be able to get valid results from any DNA-analysis. However plans are underway to let the public in on the site, when the excavation culminates on the weekend of the 8th – 9th of September. If the remains of Richard III are identified, the plan is to exhibit them at Leicester Cathedral after they have been examined in order to gather information about his height, his build (his hunchback?) and the manner in which he was killed. It is presumed that this will also induce a massive logistical exercise in order to provide Richard with a burial that is appropriate to his status as an anointed King of England, whether at Leicester, Windsor or Westminster; or maybe York where he probably planned to be entombed together with his wife and son.
Recent books about about Richard III
Amberley Publishing 2012
The Last Days of Richard III
The History Press Ltd 2010
Richard III and the Murder in the Tower
Peter A. Hancock
The History Press Ltd 2011 (2. Edition)
Richard III: The Maligned King
The History Press Ltd 2009
Richard III and the Death of Chivalry
The History Press 2009
Richard III (Routledge Historical Biographies)