Huge crowds salute coffin of English ‘car park king’ Richard III
Tens of thousands lined the streets on Sunday to see the coffin of England’s Richard III taken in procession to his final burial, five centuries after his battlefield death.
The remains of the last English monarch to die in battle were discovered buried under a municipal car park in 2012, almost 530 years after he was killed in 1485.
The medieval king will be laid to rest on Thursday in Leicester Cathedral, central England, in the presence of royalty in a service broadcast live on national television.
Five days of events leading up to the burial got under way Sunday when the king’s descendants and archaeologists who excavated his remains laid white roses, the symbol of his royal house, on his coffin.
It was then taken to Bosworth, where he fell in battle, where many attended in period dress and battle armour, and the dead king was honoured with a 21-gun salute.
The Leicester county council said 35,000 people had lined the streets during the day.
The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, said Richard’s death marked an “extraordinary moment” in English history.
“It was a change of dynasty, an end of a period of violent civil war, the beginning of the period in which Shakespeare was to write his great tragedies, including Richard III, and a different way of governing the country,” he said.
Richard, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, ruled England from 1483 until he was killed near Leicester by soldiers loyal to Henry Tudor, later Henry VII.
It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses, and Richard’s defeat saw the crown pass from his House of York to the House of Tudor.
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The slain 32-year-old was buried without fanfare at Greyfriars monastery, which was demolished in the 1530s during Tudor king Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Richard’s remains were thought lost.
But members of the Richard III Society teamed up with Leicester University archaeologists to excavate the site, rightly predicting where in the old church he would have been buried.
They found a skeleton consistent with contemporary descriptions of the king, notably his curved spine, and battle injuries. Radiocarbon dating showed the man died between 1455 and 1540.
“Skeleton 1” had eight head wounds, including a brutal slash to the base of skull which cleaved away bone. Another blow had pierced his skull.
Their discovery was confirmed by a DNA match with Richard’s closest living relative — Canadian carpenter Michael Ibsen, who fittingly has now made the monarch’s English oak coffin.
By coincidence, the remains were beneath a letter R indicating a reserved space in the car park.
Finding Richard’s remains triggered impassioned wrangling over what to do next, but following a judicial review his bones are to be reinterred in Leicester rather than York, his northern stronghold.
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After visiting the battlefield, the coffin was taken on a horse-drawn cart through the streets before being welcomed with a ceremony at Leicester cathedral.
Richard was a Catholic and lived before Anglicanism was established as the faith of the British monarchy, and the sermon was delivered by the leader of England’s Catholics, Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Both strands of Christianity are to be mixed during the week. The public can view the coffin from Monday, when Nichols celebrates a requiem mass in Leicester’s main Catholic Church.
The king’s remains are to be reburied Thursday according to Church of England traditions, in the presence of its spiritual head the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter-in-law Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, will attend, as will her cousin Prince Richard the Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Richard III Society and a blood relative.
The discovery of his skeleton encouraged scholars to look again at Richard’s record of social reform, rather than rely on Shakespeare’s Tudor-era portrayal of him as a villainous tyrant murderer.
In his sermon, Nichols praised Richard for developing the presumption of innocence in the legal system and the practice of granting bail.
“The deepest intentions of Richard have always been hard to fathom,” Nichols said.
“Within the depth of his heart, amidst all his fears and ambitions, there surely lay a strong desire to provide his people with stability and improvement.”
The chairman of the Richard III Society, Phil Stone, said this week’s events would help to restore his reputation.
“Our work will continue, in perhaps convincing the doubters Richard wasn’t as black as he was once thought to be,” he said.