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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Richard III flag
Richard III standard at Bosworth

© Geoff Wheeler
The fate of Richard III’s body

The Victorian plaque and the growth of the legend

Despite the fact that the site of Richard’s grave was apparently both known and marked in the early 17th Century, that same century was to witness the growth of an extraordinary legend. According to this legend, at the time of the Dissolution, Richard’s body had been dug up, dragged through the streets of Leicester by a jeering mob, and finally hurled into the river Soar near Bow Bridge.

Richard III drawing
Richard III, from the English version of "Rous Roll"
© Courtesy of Geoff Wheeler
There is absolutely no contemporary source for this story. Nor was it the practice at the time of the Dissolution for the remains of the dead to be treated in this sacrilegious way (though such events did sometimes occur in the 17th Century, during the Civil War). Moreover, there is no reason to suppose that Richard III was the target of popular hatred in Leicester or elsewhere in the 1530s. The Tudor propaganda machine had indeed, by that time, succeeded in establishing Richard’s reputation as a multiple murderer. However, the fact that during his short reign he had acted for the good of the common man was still widely remembered, as an astonished Cardinal Wolsey had discovered when the House of Commons told him in no uncertain terms that, whatever his faults, Richard III had made good laws.

Words: John Ashdown-Hill

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