Saturday, 16 May 2015

Guest post: The re-interment of Richard III

My parents were fortunate enough to attend the re-interment of King Richard III, and I thought regular readers of this blog might be interested in my mother's account of the occasion.  Published with permission.

King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. He is known to have had an undignified journey to Leicester, and to have been buried in the Grey Friars Church, long since disappeared and mostly built over. On 5th September 2012 a skeleton with severe scoliosis and a battered skull was found in the social services car park in Leicester. The bones were taken to the university, where the careful process of identification began. Although Philippa Langley was convinced that they had found Richard, the scientists were more sceptical and wanted proof, which is where FitzRoy played a very small part.

Richard had no direct descendents, so in order to trace his Y chromosome DNA, the search had to go back up the male line to Edward III, and then down again via his son John of Gaunt, and his bastard son, later legitimised, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. Five male Somersets were tracked down from different branches of the family, two from Australia, one from Scotland and two from England. All gave DNA samples, which provided a partial match, and two other families, descendents of Richard's sister Anne, provided mitochondrial, or maternal DNA, more reliable as maternity is a matter of fact, and paternity of speculation. This also provided a match, and taken along with the head wounds, the scoliosis and the position of the bones in the old church has made it 99.99% certain that the body is that of Richard. End of history lesson.

We drove to Leicester on Wednesday, and in the evening went to a press briefing, followed by a dinner given by professor Kevin Schurer, who had led the hunt for descendants of Richard, and also of those who had fought at Bosworth, either for Richard or Henry. He said this was a mammoth task as they weren’t documented as were the descendants. This was great fun, we met distant cousins who we had no idea existed, FitzRoy is a 5th cousin 14 times removed from Richard, so there was a great deal of trying to work out how we all fitted in. The press were very friendly, and not at all obtrusive. After the press left, we sat down to a very good meal. We were at a table with a distant cousin, a Bosworth fighter descendant, two archaeologists involved in the dig, and two members of the university team. We were shown a fascinating film taken by one of the archaeologists who had to record everything at the dig as it happened, with him introducing each day’s progress. 
Thursday morning we took a taxi to the Cathedral, but so many roads were closed, that we had quite a long walk to reach the Guildhall, our meeting place. The streets round the Close were packed with sightseers, and security to get into the railed off area by the cathedral was very tight, passports and invitations to be shown.

Once in the Guildhall, passports and invitations once more, FitzRoy had to join his processional group, the DNA donors. There were nine different groups, so a lot to be sorted out. The hangers on like me were escorted to the Cathedral at 10.15, once again producing identification, and shown to our seats, to be joined by our spouses when they had processed in. We were very lucky to have seats in the second row just in front of a television monitor, so we could see all that was going on. Our seats were up level with the tomb, behind the side screen, and we could see through it to a certain extent. The service began at 11.30, but there was so much to look at that it didn’t seem too long.

I don’t really know what to say about the service. It was dignified, simple and moving, and the music lovely. The Archbishop of Leicester preached on reconciliation, and the Archbishop of Canterbury preached about Moses taking Jacob’s bones to Israel, not quite sure why! After it was over, those us lucky enough to be invited made our way to St Martin’s Hall where a buffet lunch was laid on. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester were there, and also Princess Sophie of Wessex. We met lots more interesting people, including another cousin who was there because his ancestor had fought at Bosworth alongside King Richard. The treacherous Stanleys were also represented, brave of them to come!

Next stop was the King Richard III visitors centre. Quite the best part was in the new extension built out into the car park with a glass floor over the trench where he was found, the outline of the bones being cleverly projected in lights.

After that another long walk to the taxi, and back to the hotel quite exhausted. The whole experience was wonderful, the atmosphere buzzing, and two days that I will never forget.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You! I like this post.I'm interested in UK history very much.