Monday Reader: Reburial of King Richard III

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A memorable was held Sunday morning marking the beginning of the final journey of the mortal remains of King Richard III.

King Richard III’s remains have arrived at Leicester Cathedral ahead of his reburial. His funeral cortege entered the city at the historic Bow Bridge after touring landmarks in the county. Cannons were fired in a salute to the king at Bosworth, where he died in 1485.

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His coffin was on public view at the cathedral beginning at 09:00 GMT Monday. He will finally be reinterred during a ceremony on Thursday.

Richard’s skeleton was found in 2012, in an old friary beneath a car park.

The former king’s coffin, which is made of English oak from a Duchy of Cornwall plantation, emerged during a ceremony at the University of Leicester.

Archaeologists, academics, researchers and descendants of Richard III’s family, including Michael Ibsen who built the coffin, placed white roses on it during the ceremony.

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The reburial procession began at Fenn Lane Farm, believed to be the closest spot to where the king was killed. Ceremonies were held for the king as his cortege travelled through the county, including those at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Bow Bridge.

Ahead of the cortege arriving in Leicester, city mayor Peter Soulsby said: “It was from Leicester in 1485 that Richard rode out to battle and it was to Leicester that he returned, defeated, slung ignominiously across the back of a horse.

“It’s now our opportunity to put it right and to make sure this time that it’s done with dignity and honour.”

However, campaigners who petitioned for Richard III to be reburied in York have described the events in Leicester as a “pantomime”.

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After a service at St Nicholas Church, the coffin was transferred to a horse-drawn hearse before arriving at the cathedral via High Street and Grey Friars. The public will be able to view the coffin at the cathedral from today (Monday) to Wednesday before a reinterment service on Thursday.

A spokesman for Leicester Cathedral has confirmed that the Queen has written a greeting that will appear in the order of service at the reinterment but details of the message’s content will not be released ahead of the event.

The former king’s skeleton was sealed inside a lead-lined inner casket known as an ossuary earlier last week.

Soil from the village where Richard III was born will be placed alongside his remains when he is reburied.

The last Plantagenet king was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, and members of his family were buried at the local parish church. Soil from the castle grounds and two other sites will be laid around his coffin by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on 26 March.

Site owner John Gould said he was “delighted” to have been involved.

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Soil from the castle, a Yorkist palace during the 15th Century, is one of three samples from sites significant in the former king’s life to be sprinkled inside the vault where his coffin will be placed.

Samples from Middleham in Yorkshire, where Richard met future wife Anne, and the site of the Battle of Bosworth, have also been collected.

Some of the soil will be blessed by Bishop of Leicester Tim Stevens at a private ceremony on Sunday and will be put into a wooden casket to be displayed at the Battle of Bosworth Field Centre.

Additional Photos:

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Photo courtesy of  University of Leicester.

Photo courtesy of
University of Leicester.

On the Web:

King Richard III Gets a Spinal Exam and a New Grave

Saturday Reader: King Richard’s DNA Analysis Raises Questions on Royal Lineage

Friday Reader: Richard III and the Mystery Woman

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Friday Reader: Richard III and the Mystery Woman

First came the dramatic discovery of the long-lost remains of King Richard III. Now, there’s the mystery of the coffin within the coffin. Archaeologists working at the site in central England where Richard III’s body was found underneath a parking lot are currently puzzling over a sealed lead coffin containing the remains of a yet-to-be-identified person.
The lead coffin found was inside a stone coffin in the ruins of Grey Friars in Leicester.
Credit: University of Leicester

Archaeologists found a lead coffin buried in the ruins of an English medieval church, just feet from the grave of British King Richard III.

When they opened the tomb, they expected to find the skeleton of a knight or a friar. But instead, they found the bones of an elderly woman.

The woman’s identity remains a mystery, but a study of her bones has revealed some key details about her life, the excavators announced on March 1st. She was interred sometime in the late 13th or 14th century, before Richard was hastily buried at the monastery known as Grey Friars in Leicester, England. She must have been of a high status, because her bones show signs of a lifetime of eating well.

She’s also not the only woman buried on the grounds of Grey Friars. In fact, Richard III is the only man archaeologists have examined from the site so far. The four other graves, including the lead coffin, belonged to women, archaeologists said.

“We were naturally expecting to find friars,” Grey Friars site director Mathew Morris. The discovery of four female burials came as somewhat of a surprise.

Richard III ruled England from 1483 until he was killed on the battlefield during the Wars of the Roses in 1485. As his rival, Henry Tudor, ascended the throne, Richard received a hasty burial at the Grey Friars monastery, which was demolished in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation.

Until recently, Grey Friars’ exact location was lost to history. In 2012, archaeologists with the University of Leicester found the ruins of the monastery as well as Richard’s long-lost grave under a parking lot.

Much of the hype around the excavation has centered on Richard, and his remains have already yielded a wealth of data on the king — he died a violent death; he ate quite well while on the throne; and he suffered from scoliosis. But archaeologists have also been studying whatever else they can find in the church.

The lead coffin, which is decorated with an inlaid crucifix, was hidden inside a larger limestone sarcophagus. It was discovered during a second excavation at Grey Friars, in August 2013, underneath what would have been the church’s floor near the high altar. At the time, the tomb was first billed as the only intact stone coffin ever found in Leicester. The excavators publicly speculated that it might contain one of Grey Friars’ founders, such as Peter Swynsfeld or William of Nottingham, or a knight named Sir William de Moton of Peckleton.

“It was such an elaborate burial,” Morris said, that it seemed obvious the person inside should be someone of high rank. From historical documents, Morris and his colleagues knew several women were connected with the church as donors and benefactors. The woman’s bones indicate she clearly enjoyed a high-status lifestyle — eating a high-protein diet that included lots of meat and fish, with no periods of malnutrition — but she hasn’t been linked to a specific historical person.

Two other women between ages 40 and 50 were found buried in wooden coffins (which have since disintegrated, though the nails survive) inside the friary’s choir where Richard III was found. Radiocarbon dating showed that they likely died between 1270 and 1400. One of the women had a hip problem that forced her to walk with a crutch, and the other seems to have used her arms and legs regularly to lift heavy weights, suggesting a life of hard physical labor, the researchers said.

There was another set of female bones buried in a pit. Morris said workmen who demolished the church hundreds of years ago may have disturbed a grave and reburied the skeleton as such.

Most other monastic cemeteries in England have female-male burial ratios ranging from 1 female for every 3 males to 1 female for every 20 males, Morris said. The excavators don’t know exactly what to make of all the female burials at Grey Friars, and they were cautious about drawing any broad conclusions based on this small sample. The archaeologists identified but didn’t examine five other burial pits on the site, and they imagine these burials were just a fraction of the total graves on the church grounds.

However, it’s unlikely that archaeologists will unearth more of the graves at Grey Friars any time soon, as most of the cemetery lies beneath housing today, Morris said.

On the Web:  

Saturday Reader: King Richard’s DNA Analysis Raises Questions on Royal Lineage

King Richard III Gets a Spinal Exam and a New Grave

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Saturday Reader: King Richard’s DNA Analysis Raises Questions on Royal Lineage

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British scientists say there is conclusive proof that a skeleton found under a parking lot in Leicester is that of England’s King Richard III. But the DNA testing of the remains has raised questions on the legitimacy of the bloodline of the Royal family.

Nearly 527 years after his demise, it is now assumed that Richard III was actually a blue-eyed blond and the present Queen may not be a descendant of John of Gaunt and Edward III lineage (but many of us already knew that because of the Windsors). The findings also reveal details about the king’s curved spine and the injuries that killed him. King Richard III was the last English monarch to die on a battlefield, in 1485.

For the DNA testing, five anonymous living donors, all members of the extended family of the present Duke of Beaufort, who claim descent from the Tudors through children of Gaunt, provided their DNA samples. Their samples should have matched the Y chromosomes, which were extracted from Richard III’s bones, but none did.

Richard III’s identity was proved using the mitochondrial DNA provided by two living relatives from his sister’s line of family. This means there is a break in the claimed line of Beaufort descent or as the scientists call it : ‘a false paternity event.’

It was always believed that Richard III was a dark eyed man with shoulder length black hair. DNA analysis also disapproves that theory. Scientists now believe that there is a 96% chance that he had blue eyes and 77% chance that he was blond at least in childhood.

“Richard can be likened to a missing person’s case,” said Turi King, a geneticist at the University of Leicester who led the research. “The probability that this is Richard is 99.999 percent,” she said. When King and colleagues compared the skeleton’s DNA obtained from the ground-up powder of one tooth and a leg bone to samples provided by a 14th cousin on Richard’s maternal side, they found a perfect match.

Researchers say they can’t point where on the family tree the adultery occurred, but they believe that the findings potentially raise questions about the legitimacy of Henry V, Henry VI and the entire Tudor dynasty.

Kevin Schürer, a genealogist and co-researcher at Leicester University, was guarded in his response saying, “We are not in any way indicating that Her Majesty (Elizabeth II) shouldn’t be on the throne. These things happened back then. The claims to thrones were based on more than just having royal blood. It also depended on things like battlefield victories or royal marriages.”

On the Web: King Richard III Gets a Spinal Exam and a New Grave

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King Richard III Gets a Spinal Exam and a New Grave

The skeleton of Richard III lies in a trench at the Grey Friars excavation site in Leicester, central England

The Twenty-First Century Autopsy of Richard III…
King Richard III of England was killed in August 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field, the clash that ended the War of the Roses. He was thought to have been buried beneath Greyfriars, a now demolished monastery in Leicester, England.

Last year, archaeologists recovered a skeleton from the site that dated to the correct time period and exhibited scoliosis, a curvature of the spine known to afflict Richard. DNA analysis has now confirmed that the bones belong to the long dead monarch. These images of his bones open a window into the life and grisly death of the last English king to die in combat.

Research led by the University of Leicester, working with the University of Cambridge, Loughborough University and University Hospitals of Leicester, has finally uncovered the truth about Richard III’s spinal condition.

“The physical deformity produced by Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight as he had a well-balanced curve of the spine”

– Dr Piers Mitchell

Historical and literary references to the physical deformities of Richard III, who ruled England from 1483-1485, are well-known, but debate has raged for centuries over the extent to which these descriptions are true. Various historical and literary references refer to Richard III as “crook-backed” or “hunch-back’d” , but until now, it was unknown whether these descriptions were based on Richard’s actual appearance, or were an invention of later writers to damage his reputation.

Early examinations of the remains of Richard III, discovered in 2012 by archaeologists at the University of Leicester, showed that the king had a condition called scoliosis, where the spine curves to the side. The latest analysis, published in The Lancet, reveals that the king’s condition would have had a noticeable, but small, effect on his appearance, and is unlikely to have affected his ability to exercise.

Site of Greyfriars, shown superimposed over a modern map of the area. The skeleton of Richard III was recovered in September 2012 from the centre of the choir, shown by a small dot. Courtesy of University of Leicester.

Site of Greyfriars, shown superimposed over a modern map of the area. The skeleton of Richard III was recovered in September 2012 from the centre of the choir, shown by a small dot.
Courtesy of University of Leicester.

Professor Bruno Morgan, and the forensic imaging team at the University of Leicester, created both physical and computer-generated replicas of the king’s spine by performing CT scans at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and using 3D prints of the bones created by the Loughborough University from the CT image data. This allowed the study authors to carefully analyse the remains of Richard III’s skeleton to accurately determine the nature of his spinal condition and the extent to which it would have affected his appearance.

The results show that Richard’s scoliosis was unlikely to have been inherited, and that it probably appeared sometime after he was 10 years old. The condition would today be called ‘adolescent onset idiopathic scoliosis’, and is one of the commonest forms of scoliosis.

According to study author Dr Piers Mitchell, of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology: “The physical deformity produced by Richard’s scoliosis was probably slight as he had a well-balanced curve of the spine. His trunk would have been short relative to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder a little higher than the left. However, a good tailor to adjust his clothing and custom-made armour could have minimised the visual impact of this.”

“The moderate extent of Richard’s scoliosis is unlikely to have resulted in any impaired tolerance to exercise from reduced lung capacity,” says study co-author Dr Jo Appleby, Lecturer in Human Bioarchaeology at the University of Leicester, “Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest Richard would have walked with an overt limp, as his curve was well balanced and the bones of the lower limbs symmetric and well formed.”

The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

On the Web: Exhumation of Richard III of England

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