530 Years Too Late: The Reinterment of King Richard III

This week, the remains of King Richard III commenced the processed of reinterment to be reburied at Leicester Cathedral, nearly 530 years after he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

He was buried with an integrity that he should have received the first time around. The remains consisting of his bones made a final visit to the Battle of Bosworth to be honoured with a gun salute in Bosworth historical re-enactment style, and parading through the streets of Leicester, following a cathedral service. All of this was televised, with large crowds of people turning out to watch the procession, and throwing flowers on the coffin as it went by.

Richard III’s reburial route. Source: independent.co.uk

He was finally laid to rest yesterday, after another service, at Leicester Cathedral.

The Discovery of Old Bone

This journey of Car Park to Catherdral has been quite a story.

The Richard III Society was discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012 by Philippa Langley. A dedicated Ricardian*, she started up a project called ‘Looking For Richard’, as she was sure that he was buried at The Greyfriars, and that he was still there, despite the abbey disappearing during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.¹ She even dispelled the belief that his bones had been thrown into the River Soar afterwards.

The remains consisting of his bones made a final visit to the Battle of Bosworth to be honoured with a gun salute in Bosworth historical re-enactment style.

After three years of Langley checking maps and persuading Leicester council, the car park was dug up, only to find him under a space labeled R, which was a bit of a coincidence. I saw the documentary, Richard III: The King In The Car Park (Channel 4), which focused on the discovery of the King’s remains, and it’s quite amazing how they even found it!

The Car Park of Discovery. Source: Leicester Mercury.
Where the abbey would have been in comparison to the modern city. Source: Daily Mail.

The bones underwent numerous tests. Scientists used the DNA to trace any distant relatives alive today, for confirmation of who the bones really were. Without looking at any pictures, they even carried out a facial recognition programme on the skull, which showed how the person would have looked at the time. Upon examining the spine, the coroner discovered the victim had scoliosis of the spine, and that he received some quite terrible injuries upon his death.

All evidence concluded that it was the remains of the real King Richard III. Amazing.

Who was King Richard III, and what led to his demise?

Last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard was born in 1452. He was the son of a Duke of York, who was a cousin to King Henry VI. His brother, Edward IV, became king in 1461, a year after Henry died in battle. He made Richard the Duke of Gloucester when he was only eight.² When Richard was 18, he married Anne who was the wife of Lancastrian Prince Edward of Wales, who died at the battle of Tewkesbury.

In 1483, Edward died when he was nearly 44, and his sons were too young to rule. Apparently, by this point, the boys were declared illegitimate, because of some complicated thing with their father’s marriage to their mother. Richard took over, and he was made king.

Not long after this, the Wars of the Roses began. Henry Tudor VII from the House of Lancaster (white rose), who was in exile (no idea why!) and from John of Gaunt’s Beaufort family, wanted to restore the family line. (Richard was from the house of York, so he had the red rose.) There were a few battles, but the most famous was the Battle of Bosworth. This is where King Richard was killed, and died a rather violent death, as the last King to die on the battlefield.

The Slander of His Reputation

After death, King Richard III was subject of propaganda for many years. The Tudors alternated his portrait to make him appear hunchback, when he in fact wasn’t.³ This was to forcibly prove that Henry VII were the rightful heirs to the throne, when in fact, Henry illegally snatched it. The Tudors made Richard III look like an evil tyrant, which Shakespeare made the said king look even worse his play Richard III (1592), to please Queen Elizabeth I and tell her that her grandfather was right to be king.

There is even an old tale that Richard killed his nephews, who are known as The Princes in the Tower. They disappeared mysteriously at the Tower of London, and it was never established where they went, or who got rid of them. For years, I thought it was Richard, but now, I think not.

Last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard was born in 1452. He was the son of a Duke of York, who was a cousin to King Henry VI.

I don’t know what changed by mind (perhaps a TV drama on one of the princes that apparently did return later in life?), but now, I believe that is more likely that it would have been the York family. Most likely Henry VII or his mother Margaret, as they were both scheming for the throne, while Richard was the uncle who would have looked after then until they came of age.

Conclusion

I feel a bit mixed about this reburial, and I feel he should have been reintered at York Minster, because apparently, it was his wish to be buried there. Well, he loved York, and his father was the Duke of York. 

When I lived in York, I knew the city that dearly loves him, but I was against him, because I thought he killed the princes. Now, I see a king who was treated badly after death, due to centuries of propaganda that’s ingrained deep into history, and we may never know the true story about him.

Today, the nation is divided over a king who some still believe is an tyrant, hence this burial is a joke, while others deem him a misintepreted and loyal king.

Either way, England has made history by reburying a medieval king. We may never have another discovery like this again, so let’s celebrate making a mark on the timeline of history. In 530 years time, historians will look back and remember that a king got mislaid was put back in his rightful place. 

¹ Richard III Society, Getting Started, 'Looking For Richard', http://www.richardiii.net/leicester_dig.php [accessed 27 March 2015].
² Richard III Society, His Life, http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php[accessed: 24th March 2015].
³ Richard III: Visions of a Villian, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9809671/Richard-III-Visions-of-a-villain.html, [accessed 27 March 2015].

*A Ricardian is one who has an active interest in Richard III. According to the Society, they ‘read, research, question old ideas, develop theories, and aren’t afraid to challenge traditional ways of thinking’.

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One thought on “530 Years Too Late: The Reinterment of King Richard III”

  1. It’s a tragedy that a king’s remains were just lost like that for so long. Time Magazine had an article about it when they were found, and they put this full-page (or nearly full-page) picture of the bones in the article. And then my parents left the magazine lying open to that page, because they figured (rightly) that I’d want to read the article. And yet they didn’t understand my disgust at the idea of just casually displaying the (image of the) bones of a king in the kitchen like that.

    I hate the way centuries-old propaganda still shapes the common perspective on people like Richard III. Personally, I’m quite attached to King John (despite his admittedly many flaws) so I go through the same angers as the RIcardians whenever I see people accepting the slander of the chroniclers. Actually, John and Richard III have a lot in common: both badly abused after their reign, both maligned by Shakespeare, and both accused of nephew-murdering. (I’d say both falsely accused, but there is a chance that John actually did kill Arthur, or had him killed. Like the other early Plantagenets, he had a wicked temper. But since Arthur was captured laying siege to his own grandmother, it’s a very different situation. At the time, pretty much everyone–apart from Philip II, of course–felt that John was within his rights even if he had killed the boy.)

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