The battle-savaged skeleton of King Richard III will be given a proper royal funeral in England’s Leicester Cathedral, probably next spring. This will mark the first re-interment in English history of the mortal remains of an anointed monarch.
Richard’s skeleton was buried in the choir of Leicester’s Grey Friars church in 1485, after his defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, on Bosworth Battlefield. He was the last British king to die in battle, in the last charge of knights in full medieval armor. His grave had been lost for centuries.
A team of archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services discovered the royal skeleton in his original Grey Friars grave, now under a Leicester municipal parking lot, in 2012. His royal identity was confirmed in February 2013 through carbon dating and DNA matches with two 17th-generation descendants living today.
Reburying a king
Leicester Cathedral already bears the memorial for Richard III, placed by the Richard III Society and dedicated in 1982. This is a huge honor, since only one memorial is allowed per sovereign.
“There’s a very strong likelihood that the re-interment will be May 2014, depending upon the members of the royal family who wish to attend, plus the bishop and mayor,” said Keith Cousins of the diocese of Leicester.
“There will be a two- or three-day time line, possibly with a small ceremony at Bosworth Battlefield, a process in, and then a receiving in the cathedral, which is very dramatic and visual.
“We will have visitation for people to come see the coffin, and then he will be physically interred in a private ceremony overnight. The next day, we will have a memorial service with the royals, which will be broadcast live.”
Organizers are looking at the procession and reception of remains between May 4-25, and the memorial service between May 8-29, 2014.
Roman Catholic or Church of England?
Church leaders and medieval scholars are collaborating on the services to re-inter England’s long-lost monarch. The services will incorporate medieval music and prayers in an amalgam of Roman Catholic and Church of England traditions.
“The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England have agreed on a statement on the eucharist, and the Church of England pray for the dead,” said Barry Naylor, acting dean of Leicester. “We have really moved on from those ancient, medieval divisions. We’re emphasizing the unity of the church.”
“Richard III was one of the last Catholic monarchs of England, and his death was a decisive moment in British history,” the Rt. Rec. Malcolm McMahon OP, Bishop of Nottingham, said in a statement after the remains were verified as the king’s. “[B]ut the ultimate decision as to what form the interment takes lies with the Government and the Church of England, since he will be buried in Leicester Cathedral.”
“We may have two or three different services,” Naylor said, “to receive his coffin into the cathedral. Then maybe a service of vespers of the dead or an evensong with prayer for the dead.
“There is a group planning the liturgy and services, along with an expert in medieval burial practice.”
Richard III lived during an era when England was a Catholic country; Henry VIII created the Church of England about 50 years after Richard’s death. Ironically, Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and the destruction of Grey Friars in the late 1530s removed most of the markers of Richard’s grave.
“Richard would have had a funeral,” said Lin Foxhall, head of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester. “The friars would not have buried him in consecrated ground without it.”
The burial in the friary, as demanded by Henry Tudor, now Henry VII, was “respectful, but not too respectful,” said Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist on the Richard III team. “It wasn’t in front of the high altar, which would have been most respectful. The key thing was that the public couldn’t visit it—only monks went behind the choir.”
“A friary,” Foxhall said, “was often the resting place for aristocrats who had been convicted of crimes.”
Tomb or in-ground interment?
St. Martin’s Leicester Cathedral was built more than 900 years ago as a parish/guild church, and was raised to cathedral status in 1927. It’s small compared to the great ancient cathedrals of Britain.
Already, Richard has brought in more people, from the five or six visitors before the announcement to 20-30 a day now, according to Cousins.
“Prayer requests,” Naylor said, “have shot up.”
The Richard III Society has proposed a tomb in York stone, carved with symbols associated with Richard such as the white rose and his motto, “Loyaulte Me Lie,” Loyalty Binds Me.
The Cathedral Chapter, which commissions the work for the re-interment, is considering an in-floor ledger stone as the marker, which is most commonly used for monarchs, such as George VI and Queen Elizabeth, in the modern period. The Chapter suggests that the chancel may be the best location, close to, but not in, the sanctuary. This is where the memorial stone to Richard is now. The cathedral may also be reconfigured to accommodate Richard and the travelers and pilgrims he will attract.
Like all the people of Leicester who are adjusting to the brave new world of Richard III confirmed in their midst, Cousins said, “We are finding language for things that have never been done before.”
When you go
Leicester is an East Midlands city 70 rail minutes north of London. For more information, BritRail and Visit Britain.You can “like” Richard III on his Facebook page.
Hotel Maiyango,13-21 St. Nicholas Place, Leicester. Phone 0116 251 88 98. A 14-bedroom boutique Moroccan-themed hotel in the city center. Handmade furniture, Egyptian cotton bed linen and goose down duvets. Free WiFi. Doubles from $138, including continental breakfast.
Rothley Court Hotel, Westfield Lane, Rothley. Phone 0116 237 4141. A 30-room hotel in an ancient manor house, plus an 11th-century Knights Templar chapel. Eight miles north of Leicester. Doubles from $122.
Hotel Maiyango, 13-21 St. Nicholas Place, Leicester. Phone 0116 251 88 98. Global flavors infuse an exotic menu. Lunch and dinner daily. A two-course lunch is $26; three-course, $31. Three-course dinner $46.
Almanack gastro pub, 15 Bathhouse Lane, Highcross, Leicester. Phone
01162 160705. Breafast, lunch and dinner daily—even free toast with morning coffee. Free-range meats, Roast of the Day and real ales. Main dishes from $17.
Chutney Ivy, 41 Halford St., Leicester. Phone 0116 251 1889. Indian cuisine in the city center. Main dishes from $15.
Tithe Barn restaurant, Bosworth Battlefield Heritage & Visitor Centre, Sutton Cheney, Near Market Bosworth. Phone 01455 290429. Light lunches from $10.