X is for eXhumation.
I was not sure what to write for X. Most places beginning with X are in China and I have not travelled to China. But I have been to Leicester in Leicestershire, England and stood at the site where, after 527 years, the body of King Richard III of England was exhumed.
We arrived in Leicester on 29th July 2014 and were fortunate to be able to go through the newly completed King Richard III Visitor Centre which had opened its doors to the public on July 26th 2014. The centre which is on the site of Greyfriars, the medieval friary where the King was originally buried, showcases the life of King Richard III and the story of how his remains were discovered in 2012. It is quite a story!
King Richard III was killed on August 22nd 1485 in the final battle of England’s Wars of the Roses at Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. He was England’s last Plantagenet king and now the kingship went to Henry Tudor who became King Henry VII. Richard’s naked body was unceremoniously slung across the back of a horse and taken into Leicester and put on public display for all to see that he had been defeated and was dead. Shortly afterwards he was buried, without ceremony, without a coffin, without a shroud and certainly not in any way fitting for a king, in the church of the Franciscan Friars, the Grey Friars, in Leicester.
In 1538, the Friary was dissolved and the church demolished. Remember in the last blog on Whitby we talked about the dissolution of the monasteries after Henry VIII sundered England from the Roman Catholic Church and then went about seizing and destroying monasteries? Well this was part of the same destruction. The land was sold to a wealthy local and became private property, eventually becoming a car park of the Department of Social Services in Leicester.
Arguably England’s most controversial King, Richard has been portrayed by Shakespeare as a Machiavellian monster in his Richard III play and accused of murdering his nephews at the Tower of London, known in history as The Princes in the Tower saga.
Nevertheless, throughout history Richard III has had his supporters who believed none of this Tudor propaganda and this culminated in the 1924 establishment of the Richard III Society.
I quote the Richard III Society mission statement:
The Society aims to promote in every possible way research into the life and times of Richard III and to secure a re-assessment of the material relating to this period, and of the role in English history of the monarch. The Society believes that many features of the traditional accounts of the character and career of Richard III are neither supported by sufficient evidence nor reasonably tenable.
My husband has been a keen Richard III champion since he was in his 20s and the unfolding of the Richard III story and the subsequent discovery, in September 2012 of Richard’s body in the car park beneath the letter R, was for him both an exciting and emotional journey. To stand at the place from where Richard was exhumed was the absolute highlight of our visit to Leicester.
We also visited Leicester Cathedral where plans were being made for the Royal burial of King Richard III which occurred on March 26th 2015; only 530 years too late.
Humorously the title: Richard III: Hide and Seek Champion 1485-2012 has been given but as Philippa Langley, who instigated the project to dig for Richard said, “In the second parking bay, I just felt I was walking on his grave,” … “I can’t explain it.” https://www.theguardian.com.
Maybe Richard just wanted to be found!