The Battle For Richard III’s Bones

Richard III
University of Leicester

King Richard III just can’t rest in peace. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, and after being killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 by the rival Tudor dynasty, his body was mutilated, stabbed in the ass and buried in a hastily dug grave in the local friary in Leicester. The friary was later destroyed and his grave lost. For a while there was an outhouse right next to it. Eventually his burial site was paved over and became a parking lot.

His luck was looking better when he was rediscovered by archaeologists and his bones became a television sensation. With great fanfare Leicester Cathedral announced that it would spend £1 million ($1.6 million) on a new tomb and a museum about his life and death.

But now it looks like poor Richard won’t rest in peace quite yet. The Daily Telegraph reports that a group called the Plantagenet Alliance, which includes 15 of the king’s descendants, is challenging the decision to bury him in Leicester. The king, they say, had a long relationship with the city of York and had stated that he wanted to be buried in York Minster with the rest of his family.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester who dug up the king had already received a court’s permission to decide where he should be reinterred and chose Leicester Cathedral. Another judge has decided to allow the Plantagenet Alliance’s complaint to go to court, however, because of the unprecedented nature of the case.

The judge, Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave, has warned both sides to keep the dispute from descending into a “War of the Roses Part Two…It would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains.”

Of course, the court’s decision will determine where millions of pounds in potential tourism revenue will go. There’s more than a medieval political rivalry at stake in this case.

Remains Of King Richard III Discovered In Parking Lot


Back in September, we reported that the lost tomb of Richard III may have been found in Leicester, England. Now the Daily Mail reports the remains in that tomb have been determined to be those of the king.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet kings and fought the Tudors during the War of the Roses for control of the kingdom. The final showdown came in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, where Richard was killed. His body was buried in the church of the Franciscan friary of the Grey Friars in nearby Leicester. The church and friary were demolished in the 1530s and its location forgotten. Using old maps, archaeologists from the University of Leicester and the Richard III Society figured out that the church lay beneath the parking lot of the city’s social services department.

The team sunk exploratory trenches and soon located the friary and the remains of a man and a woman. The male skeleton had wounds from an arrow and from a blade to the skull, consistent with accounts of Richard’s death. The skeleton also suffered from scoliosis. Richard was said to have been a humpback, and this disease could have created such a deformity.

There has yet to be an official announcement. The Daily Mail cites an unnamed source with “knowledge of the excavation” and states that an official announcement won’t come until a TV documentary airs in January. A descendant of Richard III was used to provide a DNA match but it’s unclear if this is what has determined the body is that of the dead king.

The Daily Telegraph has also reported that unnamed sources confirm the skeleton is that of the king “beyond all reasonable doubt.”

While royalty are generally buried in Westminster Abbey in London, the Ministry of Justice has ruled that any remains determined to be those of Richard III should be buried in Leicester Cathedral.

Have Archaeologists Found The Lost Tomb Of Richard III?

Richard III
Back in August, we covered a new excavation in the English city of Leicester searching for the lost tomb of King Richard III. Now the University of Leicester reports that their team has discovered bones in the church where he is said to have been buried.

Richard III was the last of the Plantagenet kings and fought an epic struggle with the Tudors during the War of the Roses for control of England. He was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Support for the Plantagenet line crumbled and soon Henry Tudor was crowned King Henry VII.

After the battle, Richard III’s body was buried in the church choir of the Franciscan friary of the Grey Friars. The church and friary were demolished in the 1530s during the reign of Henry VIII and the precise location was eventually lost. Using old maps, archaeologists figured out the church lay beneath a modern parking lot.

Archaeologists from the university and the Richard III Society sunk trenches through the parking lot and soon located the friary’s chapter house and the cloister, a courtyard with a covered walkway around it. Soon after, the team found the church itself. A public day last weekend attracted more than 1500 people.

Artifacts uncovered include inlaid floor tiles, a medieval silver penny, metal letters that perhaps once were part of an epitaph, and architectural elements from the choir and church. An added bonus was the discovery of a garden from an early mayor of Leicester.

Now the excavation has revealed two skeletons, one of a female and one of a male. The male was found in what archaeologists believe is the choir, where Richard was said to have been buried. This well-preserved skeleton shows trauma to the skull from a bladed instrument and a barbed metal arrowhead was found between the vertebrae of the upper back. The skeleton also has spinal abnormalities.

The university press statement says: “We believe the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis – a different form of spinal curvature. The skeleton was not a hunchback. There appears to be no evidence of a ‘withered arm.’”

Richard was said to have had a hunched back and withered arm, but many historians believe this was later propaganda. Perhaps it was an exaggeration of a real ailment?

Is this the skeleton of King Richard III? The university can’t say for sure. Richard was probably not the only person buried in the church choir, this being a common practice, so the bones will have to be analyzed further. Genealogists have tracked down a direct descendant of Richard’s sister who can provide DNA to check for a match.

The university says a full analysis may take up to 12 weeks. When the results come in, we’ll be sure to report on it.

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Archaeologists Search For Lost Grave Of King Richard III

Richard IIIArchaeologists in Leicester, England, are looking for the grave of a king – in a parking lot.

The grave of Richard III is believed to be beneath the parking lot of a local government building, according to analysis by the University of Leicester.

Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, the decisive battle of the War of the Roses. The victor was Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII.

Richard was buried at the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars. Later development erased all trace of this church and the site was lost. Richard III is one of the few English kings for whom there is no recognized burial place. Now archaeologists have analyzed old maps and believe they have pinpointed roughly where the church was.

Heavy machinery moved in this weekend to break up the pavement, the Leicester Mercury reports. Once they’re done, the archaeologists will dig two trenches using more meticulous methods in the hope of hitting part of the church. The trenches will run from north to south, maximizing the chances of hitting the church. Medieval churches were traditionally built from east to west.

If they do find any bones, they’ll be able to tell if they belong to the slain king. Genealogists have discovered a direct descendant of Richard’s sister and will be able to use DNA analysis to check for a match.

The work should be finished in two weeks. On September 8-9 the excavation will have an open house for the public.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Sandal Castle, Yorkshire, to host medieval battle on New Year’s Eve

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire
A castle in Yorkshire will be the scene of a reenactment of one of England’s most important battles.

The Battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30, 1460, will be reenacted by the Frei Compagnie. Members of the group will not only be fighting it out medieval style, but will also be displaying medieval arts and crafts and talking about life in the 15th century.

Sandal Castle has an intriguing history. The first castle here was built in the early 12th century in the Norman motte-and-bailey style. An artificial hill had the main house on top, surrounded by a wooden palisade. A larger enclosure and other buildings on level ground were also surrounded by a palisade and the entire thing was further protected by an encircling ditch. These castles were quick, cheap, and easy to make and were one of the ways the new Norman rulers of England suppressed the rebellious Anglo-Saxons. Like many motte-and-bailey castles, the wooden walls of Sandal Castle were later replaced with stone.

The castle’s main claim to fame came during the War of the Roses, when Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, made a bid for the throne. He gathered a great deal of support and fought the armies of Queen Margaret and King Henry VI. In 1460 Richard was at Sandal Castle with an army of a few thousand men when his enemies showed up with a much larger force. Richard’s army was beaten and he was beheaded. The House of York continued to fight, but it was the beginning of the end.

While the original battle was on December 30, the reenactment will be on New Year’s Eve from 1-3pm. For more on Yorkshire’s sights, check out our series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

castle, Sandal Castle, Yorkshire