Serving as monarch does not always ensure a proper burial. That’s a lesson that a British archaeological team is learning the hands-on way.
A team of workers from the University of Leicester and members of the Richard III Historical Society is digging underneath a parking lot in the city that occupies ground where a Franciscan Friary church, known as Grey Friars, once stood.
Richard III, a former king of England, is believed to have been buried at the church after he was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, but there exists no official statement or record of a final resting place.
A proclamation by the battle’s victor, Henry Tudor (soon to be King Henry VII), serves as the only confirmation that Richard III was even buried in Leicester. The Richard III Society’s website says that Henry listed the dead and “brought dead off the field unto the town of Leicester, and there was laid openly, that every man might see and look upon him.”
From there, any reports of his burial are conflicting, at best. Some believe he was buried at the Church of the Annunciation of Mary the Virgin after his body displayed, others thought he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, and still others allege that he was indeed buried at the Church of the Annunciation of Mary the Virgin before his remains were moved to Grey Friars.
Archaeologists will use radar to determine if the church now known as Grey Friars car park holds the key to his mortal mystery. But the team admits that the undertaking may be fruitless. As Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester archaeology service told the BBC, “Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically.”
This is all a comparatively unceremonious end for a nobleman who was the last king of England to die in battle and the last monarch from the house of Plantagenet. Richard III was crowned at Westminster Abbey in July 1483 and died in one of the last battles of the Wars of the Roses, which lasted from 1455-1485.
The king himself remains an enigmatic figure that owes his enduring legacy to a depiction as a disfigured hunchback in Shakespeare’s Richard III and a legend that he killed his nephews King Edward V and Prince Richard, otherwise known as the “princes in the tower.”
The Richard III Society laments this largely negative impression. Meanwhile, many believe that descendants of his father, Richard of York, are the rightful heirs to the British throne. Richard of York also died during the Wars of the Roses, in 1460.