04 February 2013

Poor Richard III - buried under the two-doors (updated)

Richard III just can't get a break.  Maybe it's true that he wasn't a nice guy, but there are arguments that he should be presumed innocent of the murder of the princes in the tower.  And after his death his Plantagenet relatives were murdered and executed by the Tudors, and his reputation was slimed for all eternity by a descendent of the Oxford who led the Tudor forces against Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

And now...  The History Blog has the rest of the story:
One of his [Henry VII] first acts as monarch the day after the battle was to bring Richard’s body to nearby Leicester where it would be exposed, naked, and then hanged for all to see... the friars buried him unceremoniously in their abbey... In November of 1538, the Greyfriars abbey and church in Leicester was destroyed. There is no record from that time describing what happened to Richard’s tomb and remains... As the centuries passed, development entirely changed the cityscape and the exact location of Greyfriars church was lost...

University of Leicester experts used map regression analysis (a systematic comparison of different kinds of maps from different eras) to pinpoint the most likely site of the former Greyfriars church. It’s a parking lot used by the Leicester City Council... The parking lot was surveyed Friday with ground-penetrating radar, and several archaeological hot spots were identified. Today the excavation begins.

For more about the Greyfriars project and Richard III, see the University of Leicester’s microsite.
The History Blog also includes a video interview with the lead archaeologist on the project.

Addendum (Sept 2012): Archaeologists believe they have found Richard's skeleton:
The skeleton was an adult male, who appeared fit and strong. He had suffered significant trauma to the head where a blade had cut away part of the back of his skull; an injury consistent with battle.

A barbed arrow head was found lodged between vertebrae in his upper back, and spinal abnormalities pointed to the fact that he had severe scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than his left, which is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance...

Miss Langley said: “This story has never reached a conclusion. The last two years of Richard’s life history were written by the Tudors and paint a picture of an evil hunchback with a withered arm.

“That is totally at odds with what we know about the last 30 years and it is quite normal for the vanquisher to paint a negative picture.

“Richard was responsible for a lot of the laws that today uphold personal freedom – the right to justice whether rich or poor, the presumption of innocence, the clear title of property – so everyone has an interest in being able to piece together his full story.”
DNA tests are expected to take 12 weeks."
Second Addendum  (Feb 2013):  The skeleton is confirmed as Richard's.  Here's a photograph of the rearticulated skeleton (via the BBC):

I'm impressed that the curvature is so low in the thoracic spine, and note that it's not from a vertebral collapse, which is probably why he was able to be so active, going to battle and all.  DNA from dental pulp has been matched to that of a living known descendant.  There are lots more details in The Guardian and elsewhere - enough to justify a new separate post, but I'm quite happy with the title I wrote for this post, so I'll just update it.


  1. I really like the pun.

    I read Josephine Tey's book, The Daughter of Time, years ago and it colored how I viewed Richard III and the Princes in the Tower. It did seem that Henry VII had a lot to gain from getting rid of the boys and as the plays attributed to Shakespeare were written during the Tudors' reigns, it wouldn't have been very wise to paint Richard as other than a monster.

    It will be interesting to see what develops. Thanks for the info.

  2. Shakespeare's grandfather was an Oxford man?

  3. Thanks so much for posting this. I find it interesting on many levels. And of course, I wouldn't know if you hadn't posted it.

  4. While it's true that Richard's body was treated shamefully by Tudor's troops, it was customary for the victors to display the body of their opponents as proof that they now had to right to rule through battle victory. The Greyfriars took Richard's body and treated it with respect and gave him a proper burial. The location of Richard's grave was lost during the reformation, when many graves and churches were destroyed. I'm hopeful that Richard III's bones will be found from this dig.

    I'm among those who think that Richard III was a good king and enacted progressive laws when he became king, such as a person can't be held without charge, bail, and qualified juries. Interestingly, there is no contemporary documentation that says what happened to the princes. I think they survived Richard, but that's another story.

  5. Count me as another pro Ricardian. Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey set me on a journey that led me to become a history major. The winner gets to write the history, and Henry VII was a "sore winner" who had to paint Richard as an evil murderer of his nephews lest people actually think about who benefited from the boys' deaths.

  6. I was just at the Tower of London last month and really enjoyed the bloody tower exhibit. They presented it as a murder investigation and there was an electronic board where you could select who you believed was guilty and add to the overall tally. It was a really creative way to get people interested rather than just walking past another batch of boring historical signage.

  7. Thanks for posting the update. I saw the information released this week and am looking forward to what is revealed from the DNA comparison that is planned using the DNA from Richard's sister's descendant.

  8. It was him. We now have the confirmation.


  9. Another case of history being written by the victors... I always felt RIII was much maligned. And I'm very glad they were able to do the DNA match to prove twas him... and that now his bones will RIP.

  10. There is a brilliant novel called "The Sunne In Splendour" by Sharon Kay Penman (published in 1982) about Richard III. I've never been able to finish it because I admired him too much to read what I knew was inevitable. Serious bad press, poor fellow.

    The issue of Royal Succession plagued Richard III's family, and goes a long, long way toward explaining Henry VIII's desperate quest for a healthy male heir to ensure the Tudor line.

  11. Richard 111 is not 'poor Richard' he is a King who set aside his nephews and got rid of anyone who oppossed the idea of his becoming King. Lord Hastings was dragged out of a council meeting without trial or official charge and executed! If that happened today there would be an outcry! Richard made some good laws yes, but he also made some bad mistakes after the defeat of the Duke of Buckinghamd, supplanting loyal southerners with his own northern cronies. Before anyone from the north complains, I am from Liverpool and have relatives in Yorkshire so I am northern as well! He became over suspicious and he ended up sending more and more people into exile. Henry Tudor attracted every discontented person for miles around like a magnet. Then when the time was right he attacked and because Richard was betrayed by the Stanleys, and made a brave but foolish death charge at Henry Tudor, he was surrounded, unhorsed, refused help and was killed. There are 8-10 wounds on his body. Most are mortal wounds and one may have been after he was dead.

    Yes, his body was mistreated and that is a shame, but he was laid out for a reason: to prove he was dead. Yes, they should have covered his naked body on the return journey, but it was not unnusual for this sort of treatment to show he was a traitor or a usurper and was also dead. He had his herald go before him and his standard. He was given a simple but respectful burial. There is no evidence that the body was thrown into a pit. He was laid into the ground and a mass said for him every day after that. He was then given a tomb by Henry Tudor. It is a pity that it was lost with the building of other buildings but now we have found his mortal remains and he is getting more than enough fuss, thank you very much.

    You do not have any proof that he did not kill his nephews or that anyone killed them. For all we know they may have gone insane and been put in a monastic cell! We do have some evidence that he may have had them disposed off and so may have Henry Tudor as they were both ahead of him in succession. What we do know is that Richard was ruthless and that he was also firm but fair. We also know now that he did have a deformed spine, so other things could also be true. We will never know the truth of the boys as smoothering them would leave no trace on the bones. If they died of affixiation, they may have an expression however, but they probably did not. Richard had the boys declared bastards and that was ruthless enough to ensure he took the throne. The House of York was no saintly family! Edward had already set the pattern by having George Duke of Clarence privately executed for very few reasons, and they were all guilty of some crime or other.

    Let me also remind you that calling a pile of bones 'poor Richard' is also a load of rubbish! They are just that: a pile of bones: the essence of the person has long departed: soul, spirit, personality, core, what you wish to call it. If you believe in any afterlife then he has moved on to that afterlife and to be judged by a higher power more qualifeid than any human beings. Poor Richard was not here to care what happened to his bones! He was either in heaven or hell! I believe that there is a fairer than history or the Richard III Society, and that He decided a long time ago what happened to the last Plantagenet King. That does not mean that his remains should not be shown respect, of course they should, but a memorial is just as good as a tomb and he was shown respect by the monks who buried him. That was part of their work: the care of souls and to watch over his remains. That process was sadly interupted but I am sure that now he is at peace.

    1. I used "poor Richard" in the title to emphasize the pun on Tudor.


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