Richard III : Wiki Commons
The University of Leicester and Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society, have joined forces to begin a search for the mortal remains of King Richard III.
This August 2012 – five hundred years after King Richard III was buried in Leicester – the historic archaeological project will begin with the aim of discovering whether Britain’s last Plantagenet King lies buried in Leicester City Centre.
The project represents the first ever search for the lost grave of an anointed King of England.
In 1485 King Richard III was defeated at the battle of Bosworth. His body, stripped and despoiled, was brought to Leicester where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars. Over time the exact whereabouts of the Greyfriars became lost.
Led by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), experts will be seeking to locate the Greyfriars site and discover whether the remains of Richard III may still be found.
Richard Buckley, Co-Director of the Archaeology Service at the University of Leicester, said: “The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site and also where in the church the body was buried. Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long-shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically. There is certainly potential for the discovery of burials within the area, based on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church.”
The project’s small but dedicated team has undertaken map regression analysis to identify the likely site of the church where Richard was buried – currently in use as a car park for council offices. Ground Penetrating Radar is being employed to help find the best places to cut into the ground.
Councillor Piara Singh Clair, Assistant Mayor for Culture, Leisure and Sports, said: “Richard III is a key figure in the region’s history. This is an exciting opportunity potentially to discover a missing piece of our historical jigsaw.”
Philippa Langley, screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society, is one of the guiding lights behind the project. She said: “This search for Richard’s grave is only one aspect of the on-going research effort to discover the real Richard III.
“After his defeat his reputation suffered enormous disparagement at the hands of his opponents and successors, the Tudors. The challenge lies in uncovering the truth behind the myths.
“Richard III is a charismatic figure who attracts tremendous interest. Partly because he has been so much maligned in past centuries, and partly because he occupies a pivotal place in English history.
“The continuing interest in Richard means that many fables have grown up around his grave. Although local people like Alderman Herrick in 1612 knew precisely where he was buried – and Herrick was able to show visitors a handsome stone pillar marking the king’s grave in his garden – nevertheless at the same time unlikely stories were spread of Richard’s bones being dug up and thrown into the river Soar. Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough.
“This archaeological work offers a golden opportunity to learn more about medieval Leicester as well as about Richard III’s last resting place – and, if he is found, to re-inter his remains with proper solemnity in Leicester Cathedral. A filmed record will be made of the entire historic project.”
Richard Taylor, Director of Corporate Affairs at the University of Leicester, added:
“If remains are found that are suspected to be those of Richard III, they will be subject to DNA analysis at the University of Leicester where DNA ‘fingerprinting’ was originally discovered.
“As one of Europe’s oldest cities, the story of Leicester is a long and complex one, with people from many different cultures having shaped the urban fabric and contributed to arts, industry and politics on a national and international level. The University of Leicester, working in partnership with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society, is proud to have a role in telling this story, employing its expertise in archaeology, history and genetics.”
• Visitors are not able to view the dig once it commences, as it is taking place at an operational council area and is not publicly accessible. In addition, the possibility of finding human remains requires maintaining a ‘clean site’. However, plans are under discussion to invite visitors towards the end of the dig. Information will be posted on partner websites.