I’ve taken a bit of interest in Richard III before. Tomorrow – or rather, later on today – , in an improbable pageant, the skeleton of King Richard III of England is going to repeat his last journey from Leicester to the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where he died on 22 August 1485. It will then return to Leicester, to Leicester cathedral, where it will lie at rest for three days before finally being interred in the cathedral on Thursday, 26 March 2015.
Richard III has rather come to life again since his skeleton was discovered under a Leicester car park in September 2012. The skull has been used to create a reconstruction of his face (right), which bears a resemblance to his portrait (left).
He will reburied in an oak and yew coffin made by one of his descendants. Several of England’s noble families will be present, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Not everyone is convinced, however, that the right body is about to be reburied. But, on the face of it, it appears that it most likely is the right one. Richard was described as a hunchback, and the skeleton found in Leicester had a twisted spine – a condition known as scoliosis. It was also found in the chancel of Greyfriars, where it was reported to have been buried. Furthermore, the skeleton had multiple head wounds in keeping with reports that Richard lost his crown and helmet after being unhorsed at Bosworth. The maternal DNA of the skeleton also matched those of Richard’s descendants. The sceptics point out that its DNA was for a man with blond hair and blue eyes, whereas Richard’s portrait is of a man with brown hair and brown eyes. And if the maternal DNA is right, the paternal DNA is wrong. They add that there is nothing to directly link the skeleton with the battle of Bosworth. All the same, the other evidence does seem to strongly stack up in favour of it being the skeleton of Richard III.
Not everyone is convinced that he will be returning tomorrow to the right battlefield either. For many years it was believed that the battle had taken place on the slopes of Ambion hill (site 1 below).
But in 1998, The Field of Redemore by Peter Foss argued convincingly that the true site of the battle lay about 1.5 km further south (2), next to a stream where there would once have been marshes.
And then in 2010, several cannonballs and a silver gilt boar (Richard’s personal emblem) were unearthed near a second stream (3). This is now believed to be the true site of the battle. And it will be at Fenn Lane Farm, just west of this site, that Richard will make his first stop tomorrow.
It’s rather an odd coincidence that, over 500 years after the event, and within a couple of years of each other, the true site of the battlefield should first be found, and then the remains of one of its principal participants.
Clearly Professor Richard Holmes knew little or nothing of either when he made this documentary about the battle of Bosworth: