After a remarkable archaeological find and a dispute over his final resting place, the English city of Leicester prepares to rebury medieval King Richard III.
LEICESTER, ENGLAND, UK (FILE) (UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER) – British medieval monarch Richard III, is set to finally receive a burial fit for a king on March 26 in Leicester.
The reburial marks the end of an incredible journey for the remains of King Richard, the last British monarch to die in battle, whose skeleton was found in a car park by a team of archaeologists and determined volunteers in the Midland city of Leicester in England in August 2012.
The team responsible for one of the most important finds in English archaeology began to dig in Greyfriars car park hoping to find a Franciscan friary, where the monarch’s corpse was purportedly hurriedly buried a few days after the battle of Bosworth.
On February 4, 2013, Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the project from the University of Leicester, announced publically that they had confirmation that the skeleton was that of the deposed king. Over two years later, the former royal will be interred next week.
It will be the first time a British monarch’s remains have ever been exhumed and reburied. As the situation is so unique there isn’t previous protocol for reburying a monarch, the British museum have been advising the university using medieval documents.
Buckley told Reuters it’s a new experience for the archaeologists.
”It’s a very unusual thing for us to be involved in, it is absolutely unprecedented. We’ve had many occasions when we have excavated ordinary medieval burials in Leicester, several thousand in fact from some of our excavations. We have had some of those reinterred in the municipal cemetary in Leicester in large graves. We have never actually reinterred a individual with this sort of status, so it is a steep learning curve for many people involved,” he said.
Philippa Langley was a driving force behind the discovery. She began to research about the dead king when writing a film about him in 1992 and led the search for his remains. Absorbed by his story and the mystery behind where his remains lay, she raised over 30,000 pounds towards funding the original excavation and was heavily involved throughout the process. She told Reuters about her expectations ahead of the ceremony.
“I’m hoping it works, I’m hoping it all comes off as they say it’s going to come off. But for me, the last time he left that battlefield he left it naked, swung over a horse. So to take him back there and honour him now as a king, I think again it’s making peace with the past,” she said.
The deposed monarch was immortalised as a hunchback despot in William Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ and the play implicated him in the murder of two young princes in the tower of London, rivals to Richard’s claim to the throne. Their murder still remains a mystery.
Richard’s supporters say he has been unfairly misjudged in history written by the Tudor victors and Shakespeare’s play.
Langley believes the find and reburial will change the public’s perception of the king.
”We needed a powerful counterpoint to Shakespeare, because whenever Richard III was spoken about previously, you would get the Shakespearian portrayal, you would get (Laurence) Olivier, you know, stomping across the floor and that’s what everyone thought was that’s who Richard III was. But I think now because of this, because of finding him, because of being able to discover so much about his life and his death and his burial. The real man is back with us now,” she said.
Richard was slain during the battle of Bosworth field, just outside of the city in 1485. His defeat at the hands of the future king, Henry Tudor, in what came to be known as the War of the Roses, marked the start of the Tudor dynasty.
Henry VII, the victor of the battle, had Richard’s body slung naked over the back of the horse.
Archaeologists from the University of Leicester were able to confirm from his remains that the body had suffered multiple wounds post-mortem and ten in total, suggesting his body had been abused and humiliated when he was paraded back to Leicester.
His skull showed signs that it had been hacked at eight times, causing its back to fracture. The team also found that the curvature of his spine was consistent with Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard as a hunchback.
It took the team several months to confirm the identity of the bones.
DNA from the skeleton was traced back to a direct descendent of the medieval king’s sister, Anne of York, which helped the team to identify that the remains belonged to Richard.
The biological relative, Michael Ibsen, a Canadian-born furniture maker who resides in Britain, is also going to be involved in his distant relative’s reburial. In his London workshop, he’s crafted the king’s coffin. It’s set to be revealed to the public at a ceremony on Sunday (March 22), when the casket is taken around Leicester.
The discovery of Richard’s skeleton caught Ibsen by surprise.
”When the remains were found, it raised the whole thing to another level altogether. It meant that history was coming alive and we were right at the centre of it,” he said.
Ibsen and his siblings, who were all brought up in Canada, were stunned to find that they were related a former king of England.
”The idea that you are related to a royal is something that takes a bit of getting used to. I think one of the marvellous things about the British empire is that of course people spread out all across the world. So you will find people living all over the planet who trace their roots back to the UK,” he added.
The cortege will leave Leicester university on Sunday (March 22) before retracing Richard’s last movements to Fenn Lane farm, the site of where the battle of Bosworth is believed to have taken place. It will then travel to Leicester Cathedral, where Richard’s remains will rest before being reinterred at a ceremony on Thursday March 26.
The site of Leicester cathedral traces its history to a Saxon Bishop in AD 680 and the church has been rebuilt and expanded multiple times since its creation.
The tomb, currently shrouded in secrecy by a dark cloak, has been built inside the cathedral at a cost of 1.54 million pounds.
Richard’s reinterment has not been without controversy. Debates as to whether his remains would be buried in his ancestral home, York, or in Leicester have raged since his remains were dug up and culminated in a high court battle between the Plantagenet Alliance, a group which included some of his distant descendants, and representatives of the university and Leicester council. Leicester eventually won.
Reverend Pete Hobson, who will oversee the reburial of the king, said he was disappointed by the arguments around the reburial site.
”Some people got it into their heads that they ought to turn it into a massive debate, or for some of them an argument. Sadly for one or two people they are still arguing, but it’s happening here and we should just enjoy that fact and get on with it,” he said.
After the cortege containing the body completes its tour around Leicester on March 22, the king’s coffin will be on view to the public in the cathedral from March 23. His mortal remains will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral on March 26, with an invited congregation and in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Anglican church, with the current royal family represented by the Countess of Wessex, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son Prince Edward, and the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester. Richard’s sealed tomb will finally open to the public on March 27.