Richard III – From Car park to Cathedral!
Since my trip to Leicester to visit the Richard lll Exhibition and the Bosworth site, (see the article that follows this) I’ve followed the progress with great interest. So I was gripped to the Ceremony on the TV.
On the 26th March, 2015, King Richard lll was finally interred permanently in Leicester Cathedral.
He was in a wooden coffin which had been made by one of his final descendents, Michael Ibsen.
The Duchess of Wessex and Richard, the Duke of Gloucester and his wife represented the Royal Family.
A mixture of modern and Medieval music filled the Cathedral.
As the National Anthem played, the camera panned in on Michael Ibsen, with the other descendent, Wendy Duldig, stood next to him.
It was their DNA that proved a perfect match to Richard’s bones.
I wonder what their thoughts were? Technically, they are just as royal as the Queen, and it could be argued that Michael had more right to the throne than our Queen!
The Crown was stolen from King Richard’s head at the Battle of Bosworth.
After the ceremony, the coffin was lowered in its final resting-place, and later a York stone lid was lowered over the top.
The stone is full of crinoid fossils, and weighs 31/2 tons.
Never before has the public witnessed a Monarch being lowered into a grave, and it will probably never happen again.
Over the past few days, thousands of people from all over the world have queued from 6am until late to view King Richard’s coffin, which had been carried around the city and up to the scene of the Battle of Bosworth.
And now one of England’s most controversial kings has been laid to rest, with the arguments about his life still going on. They may never be laid to rest, although there is a lot of research of ancient documents going on behind the scenes!
Personally, I hope that he’s proved innocent of the murder of his two nephews. I don’t think he did it!
Remember the 1920s song, ‘I danced with a man who’s danced with a girl who’s danced with the Prince of Wales’? Well, I’ve shaken hands with a woman who’s touched the bones of Richard the Third!
Since the announcement, on 12th September, 2012 that Richard III’s skeleton had been formally identified, Leicester has been placed firmly on the world’s map, with film crews and journalists from Brazil, Washington, Japan and many other countries, all rushing there to cover the story. Some of them turn up unannounced.
An exhibition was literally thrown together in 7-8 weeks, next to the Medieval Guildhall, and it had over 15,000 visitors in the first two weeks.
Laura Hadland, the Senior Curator showed me round. The queue outside snaked right round the corner.
Simon Gribbin, Head of Communications for Leicester Tourist Board, met me at the station and we drove over Bow Bridge towards the Bosworth Battlefield. A soothsayer told Richard, ‘If you bang your spur on the way out, you’ll bang your head on the way in!’
Yes, Richard banged his spur on the way over, and his corpse, strapped over a horse, banged its head on the way back.
For many years there’s been a sign on the bridge, saying his bones were thrown in the river there. But now they’ve had to add a new one, correcting that!
The Bosworth Heritage Centre has a marvellous interactive exhibition, with replicas of Medieval objects, including shoes, bowls and armour, which you’re encouraged to touch.
There’s an armour jacket, as worn by children aged about eight who had to run around collecting arrows for the archers. It was so heavy that I couldn’t lift it!
Richard Mackinder, my guide (everyone seemed to be called Richard!) showed me a tiny black boar that he’d dug up on the battlefield. It was Richard’s sign. So it had been worn by Richard himself, or someone very close to him.
We walked up to see the sundial, commemorating over a thousand men who lost their lives on 2nd August, 1485. It was bitterly cold with the wind whipping round us.
The day of the Battle of Bosworth was warm and sunny.
Henry, soon to be the new King, and his troops had their back to the sun, which shone in the eyes of Richard’s men. They fought early in the morning. The biggest killer then wasn’t the weapons. It was dehydration.
Of course, there were no Portaloos on the outskirts. Just thought I’d mention that in passing!
Not many people are aware of the fact that there were three armies lined up. The third one was led by Thomas, Lord Stanley, Henry Tudor’s stepfather.
Quite honestly, he was a real creep. He had a reputation for hesitating, then backing the winning side.
He and his troops just stood there, watching until the last minute, when they joined in and won the battle for Henry. It is said that he found the crown on the ground and placed it on Henry’s head.
While Henry was well-protected by his hangers-on, Richard was there, fighting in the thick of it all. He was even riding a white horse and wearing his crown so his men could see him.
Unfortunately it made him an easy target. A blow to the skull probably killed him instantly. But it didn’t stop there. His skeleton had 10 serious injuries on it, many inflicted after he was dead, including a vicious jab through the backside, almost certainly done while he was naked and flung across a horse.
People in Medieval times were very into recycling everything, which is why there weren’t many artifices left on the battle site. Every soldier would have been completely stripped by scavengers on the field. The only objects found to prove where the battle was fought were cannonballs, shoe buckles and a few tiny badges.
Until ten years, ago the Battle of Bosworth was believed to have been in a slightly different area. There were no surviving first-hand records. But with the help of the Heritage Lottery, the Battlefields Trust and English Heritage, new evidence soon came to light of where it had really been.
I was surprised to see what a huge area it stretched over. Two armies galloping down two hills towards each other, yelling ‘Yaaaah!’ just wasn’t true! There were skirmishes going on all over the land, and down to the marshes.
They also had cannon, and the largest number of fired Medieval roundshot in Europe has been found there.
Cannonballs were made in several different weights and sizes. The theory is that the cannons were repositioned, and the size and weight of the ammunition was adjusted according to the position of the advancing enemy.
The archers were the most accurate killers. Their arrows were all stuck in the ground in front of them. They could fire an arrow every six seconds and kill from 250 yards away. A bodkin could shoot through armour.
(By the way, it’s still the law that every male over 16 must practise his longbow before going to church.)
During the excavation in the new site, both Neolithic and Roman remains were found, answering yet another question, why was the battle fought there?
It was because the Roman roads were still the best roads in the country. They were long and straight, giving good views in every direction.
When Henry and Richard arrived there, just a day or two before the battle, they knew that now was the time that they had to fight for the Crown.
It’s not known who removed Richard’s body from the battlefield. He was laid out on show for a few days to prove that he was dead. Then he was taken away and buried in the Grey Friars monastery church, near the High Altar, nobody knows who by. It seems to have been a hasty burial. The grave was too small, and he wasn’t laid East/West as was the custom. He was naked and his wrists seem to have been tied together.
And there he lay for 517 years. The monastery disappeared (on Henry VIII’s orders?) Other buildings were built on top of it, including an outside loo in the 1800s, and the foundations missed him by inches!
In the early 1600s, the land was bought by the Leicester Mayor, Robert Herrick.
Christopher Wren Senior visited him in 1612 and was shown a 3ft stone pillar in the garden, saying ‘Here lies the body of Richard 3, sometime King of England.’
Simon took me to see the Council car park where Richard’s grave had been discovered. It’s just a few yards from the Cathedral.
A guard in a high-viz jacket stood patiently at the gate, politely refusing everyone entry – and he has to refuse a lot of people! While I stood there, a constant stream of curious groups peered inside to look at the marquee placed over the hole in the ground.
There was a brief lull, and he very kindly let me dash inside to take a couple of hasty shots through the plastic windows. They’re not very clear, but I’ll treasure them all my life.
William Shakespeare was born in 1564, just 79 years after Bosworth.
Elizabeth was on the throne, and there were still people alive who would have remembered how her Grandfather Henry VII had killed King Richard and grabbed the Crown.
Woe betide anyone who cast doubts on her right to be the Queen, so Shakespeare had to tread very carefully indeed!
Obviously it was to his advantage to blacken Richard’s name in any way that he could, including giving him an ugly appearance. And of course, the thing that really gave Richard a terrible reputation was the accusation that he had his two young nephews murdered so that he could be King.
But nobody really believed Shakespeare’s description of Richard as a hunchback (except Sir Laurence Olivier!) until the skeleton clearly showed it to be the truth. It’s twisted in an S shape. One shoulder would have been higher than the other.
Richard probably developed scoliosis when he was about 10, possibly through an illness or an injury, although there was also something not quite right about the young Edward V, Richard’s nephew, as his bones weren’t growing properly.
The find wouldn’t have happened at all if it wasn’t for the dedication of Philippa Langley of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society. She walked across the car park and felt a strong sensation that she was walking on Richard’s grave. And he was under a painted R! It actually stood for Reserved, but how strange!
So they had a skeleton of a naked man with a crooked spine, serious injuries, his hands tied, and an arrow lodged in his back, who had been buried under the floor of a Friary church. He had signs of a high-protein diet, including seafood, which proved that he was of high status, and the bones were radio-carbon dated to show death between 1475-1530.
But that still wasn’t 100% proof. Amazingly, Prof Kevin Schurer managed to trace two direct descendants through 17 generations of Richard’s eldest sister, Anne of York.
Michael Ibsen is a Canadian furniture-maker and he was very surprised to discover that he was a direct descendant of King Richard of England through his mother, Joy.
There is one other descendant who wishes to remain anonymous.
When the swabs were taken and tested, they were found to be definite matches to Richard’s DNA!
(Michael has gone very quiet since then. I do hope he’s not gathering an army to march on London to claim his heritage! Will we see a fleet of ships with the Maple Leaf waving in the wind, sailing across the Atlantic?
Actually, one in four of us is possibly descended from Richard’s brother Edward IV, so maybe I should be Queen!)
Apart from the marvellous historical discovery of King Richard III, the excavations in the Leicester/Bosworth areas are revealing a lot of unknown facts about our history, including New Stone Age causeways and Roman finds.
Nowadays, archaeologists are far more aware of their shortcomings and don’t do what Sir Mortimer Wheeler called ‘Digging for Potatoes.’ They realise that technology is moving fast, so they often cover sites up and leave them to wait for further progress.
But sometimes a window opens that they can’t afford to miss.
DNA has greatly progressed over the past few years. And Michael Ibsen is the final descendant able to match Richard’s DNA. He’s also in his 60s. So that window is about to close for ever. It was caught just in time.
Richard’s skeleton’s now in a secret location in Leicester University. It will eventually be given a proper burial in the Cathedral.
An old Grammar School opposite has been purchased to house a permanent exhibition.
What is my opinion on Richard III? Well, I’m glad you asked!
I’m re-reading Jean Plaidy’s book, The Sun in Splendour, plus any other information that I come across.
Richard adored his family, and was fiercely loyal to his brother, Edward IV. He ruled in York on his brother’s behalf and loved his life there with his wife Anne and their son Edward. He was heartbroken when they both died, soon after each other.
He was furious with Edward when he finally had their brother George, Duke of Clarence, drowned in a barrel of Malmsey wine, although he’d deserved it for a long time.
Edward’s sons were technically illegitimate as Edward just couldn’t resist a beautiful woman, and he’d gone through a ceremony with Eleanor Butler and had two children with her. She was still alive and in a Convent when he married the widow Elizabeth Woodville.
And Bishop Stillington, who had married them was also still alive. So Richard had no need to murder his nephews. He was the legal King.
The Tower of London wasn’t just a prison. It was also a palace. The two boys lived and played there, protected from anyone who may have wished to kill them. Richard was also responsible for their five sisters, and Henry Tudor married Elizabeth, the eldest, who was the Mother of Henry VIII.
Of course, life was way, way different then. Imagine commuting to London now, passing heads stuck on spikes, and bodies swinging on gibbets, then shrugging and continuing to read this article!
Richard was regarded as a good, fair King. Among other things, he encouraged Caxton and the printing of books. He had laws written in English, not Latin. He refused huge financial gifts, saying he’d rather have their goodwill than their gifts. And he started bail.
With a spine like that, Richard must have had a hell of a backache! And it was getting worse. There are signs of arthritis between the vertebrae.
The doctors would surely have been giving him some pretty strong stuff to ease the pain. And nobody would have thought of him then as a drug addict.
Did his character alter as he grew older and the pain increased? It’s quite possible. But I think the murder of the princes seems more like a Tudor action. They really were a fierce lot! Was Henry Tudor aware of Edward’s first marriage? Of course he was! Their communications then seemed to be as efficient, if not even more so, than ours now! And Richard had started a series of posting stations for Royal messengers between London and the North. Apart from that, there were spies everywhere. In Henry’s eyes, the Princes probably had to go, to avoid uprisings when they got older.
Do I think Richard III did it? No. I believe he was framed. I think he tried to be as fair a King as he could be. He was honourable and he was brave.
Rest in Peace, Richard III. England’s final Warrior King.