King Richard III – 1452 to 1485

The remains of King Richard III were buried at Leicester Cathedral earlier this week, closing a late chapter in the Wars of the Roses.

Saturday, 28th March 2015

A contentious period in English history, the struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster for control of the English throne during the latter part of the 15th century, still divides some people today.

After he lost the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, King Richard’s remains were treated poorly by modern standards, but it was normal for the times. The corpse of the vanquished King Richard was stripped naked and displayed in public in Leicester before being buried in an unmarked grave in the church of the Greyfriars. The church was demolished after its dissolution in 1538 during the reign of King Henry VIII, and so Richard’s remains were thought lost.

The discovery of the remains of King Richard III under a modern-day carpark on the former site of the Greyfriars church in Leicester city in 2012 brought the matter back to public attention. The remains have been studied and validated, and it was time to reinter them in a place appropriate to the remains of a fallen king.

On Sunday 22nd March, the remains of King Richard III left the University of Leicester on a long procession to Leicester Cathedral. The full ceremony at the university prior to the departure is in this 29-minute video. It includes details of the finding of the king’s remains. En route his remains were taken to the Bosworth battlefield where he fell in 1485.

This 14-minute video clip shows the formal transfer from the university to the bishop at the cathedral in Leicester. Present is Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester – King Richard himself held the Gloucester title. The prince is the patron of The Richard III Society.

The video shows Catholic cardinal Vincent Nichols joining the procession of Anglican clergy as the king’s coffin was carried into the cathedral. England was Catholic at the time of King Richard’s death and, despite the violent confusion that followed the battle, it is thought that the Greyfriars would have celebrated a requiem mass for the king before hastily burying him in 1485. With this in mind, a funeral ceremony was not held as part of his re-interment in 2015.

A notable absence from the commemorations in 2015 was a close member of the present Royal Family. The Queen sent a message. The closest member of the family to attend was the Countess of Wessex, wife of Prince Edward. One wonders whether the medieval rivalry is still felt within royal circles.

Nevertheless, the British know how to put on a good show. Pomp, pageantry and noble etiquette were to the fore with Prince Richard overseeing the coffin of his predecessor in the royal dukedom of Gloucester being draped in a pall by descendants of four peers of the realm who fought either for or against King Richard at the battle.

The cathedral was open to the public who could file past the coffin and pay their respects during the week. A re-interment ceremony was held on Thursday 26th March 2015. Despite this ceremony being broadcast live, video of it has not yet appeared on the internet.

Was Richard III an heroic king or the monster portrayed by the playwright William Shakespeare? This fascinating 46-minute documentary produced by Britain’s Channel 4 examines whether Richard III’s curved spine, caused by scoliosis, allowed him to wear armour and lead his troops into battle. In a marvellous quirk of fate, scientists, historians and armourers have been able to work with Dominic Smee who has a remarkable similarity to Richard III through also suffering from a spine bent and twisted by scoliosis. They conclude that King Richard would have lacked stamina through limited lung capacity, but that he was suitably trained in warfare, able to wear armour and a competent horseman.

Perhaps knowing that he lacked the stamina for a prolonged battle encouraged Richard to strike his foe Henry Tudor with a fast and furious attack at the Battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August 1485. He nearly succeeded but as we know, King Richard was unhorsed, placing him at a distinct disadvantage and he was slain. This webpage summarised the events leading to and the outcome of the battle of Bosworth.

Altogether an interesting week for history buffs and those who like a good show of pageantry.

One Response to “King Richard III – 1452 to 1485”

  1. Lizzie from Gizzie says:

    Good article Ken, good read with helpful information in accessing more information

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