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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
The fate of Richard III’s body

Richard III’s death and burial

Richard III was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August 1485. After the battle his body, stripped and slung across a horse’s back, was carried back to Leicester, passing over Bow Bridge, across which Richard had ridden as a living man only a day or two before. In Leicester, on Henry VII’s instructions, the body was exposed to the public gaze so that all might know for certain that Richard was dead.

Beyond this the new king seems to have made no immediate provision for the disposal of his predecessor’s remains. It was the Franciscan Friars of Leicester who apparently took the initiative of requesting permission to inter Richard’s corpse. Henry VII’s court historian, Polydor Vergil, reports that Richard was ‘buryed two days after [on 25 August?] without any pompe or solemn funerall … in thabbay of monks Franciscanes at Leycester’. This location is confirmed by the contemporary Warwickshire antiquary, John Rous, who adds that, as one would expect for a person of such rank, the burial took place in the choir of the church.

For the next ten years, Richard III’s burial place remained unmarked. In the summer of 1495, however, King Henry VII took somewhat belated steps to provide a fitting tomb for his late rival. A Nottingham alabasterman, Walter Hylton, was commissioned to erect a monument ‘in the Church of Friers aforeseid’; the budget allowed for this work was £50. No detailed description of the tomb exists, but it was of ‘mingled colour, marble’, with a figure of Richard in alabaster. It bore an inscription recording Henry VII’s generosity in paying for it, and asking for prayers for Richard’s soul, ‘t’atone my crimes, and ease my pains below’. This tomb remained in place in the Greyfriars’ church for the next 43years.

Words: John Ashdown-Hill

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