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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Leicester

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Myths and Legends
Richard III statue
Richard III statue in Leicester

© Geoff Wheeler
The fate of Richard III’s body

The 17th Century legend, however, was supported by a popular relic: a stone coffin, used as a horse trough, which was displayed to tourists visiting Leicester as ‘Richard III’s coffin’. In reality this coffin dated from many centuries earlier than King Richard’s time. However its public presence, together with the fact that a genuine connection did link Richard III with Bow Bridge, helped to establish the legend that Richard’s body had been thrown into the river. Both the coffin and the legend were widely reported in the later 17th and in the 18th Centuries. Meanwhile as redevelopment took place, the real grave site was lost to view.

Plaque on Bow Bridge in Leicester
In the mid-19th Century, Benjamin Broadbent came upon the scene. The founder of a firm of builders which still flourishes in Leicester, Mr. Broadbent was a generous and public-spirited man. He was proud of his town’s association with King Richard, and regretted the lack of any tangible memorial in Leicester to commemorate the king. Accordingly in 1856 he erected a large stone plaque close to Bow Bridge, which reads: NEAR THIS SPOT LIE THE REMAINS OF RICHARD III THE LAST OF THE PLANTAGENETS 1485

Asked about the authority for this statement, Mr. Broadbent admitted that he was relying solely on local tradition. And regrettably his large and prominent plaque has served to reinforce the dubious tradition which it celebrates. It is by no means uncommon to find historians, who ought to have checked their facts, merely relying upon the plaque’s statement and retailing the dubious story of Richard’s body having been thrown into the river as though this were an established truth.

The legend has unfortunately become self-perpetuating, to the extent that a skull of unknown age, dredged up from the river, and exhibiting damage which was thought to be attributable to sword cuts, could not fail to be hailed, on its appearance, as Richard III’s skull. The more simple reality is that Richard III’s body probably still lies where it was first buried, somewhere beneath Grey Friars Street or the adjacent buildings. However thanks to Mr. Broadbent’s large and conspicuous plaque, the legend has become so well known that to this day, it is still widely accepted as fact.

Words: John Ashdown-Hill

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