Who was Richard III and how did he end up in Leicester?
King Richard III was born at the Castle in Fotheringhay on 2 October 1452, the youngest of four brothers. He was given the title Duke of Gloucester when he was nine years old. During his life Richard was a great supporter of his brother, who became King Edward IV, and he helped to defeat a great number of rebellions. In return Richard was given a great number of titles and lands, and married into one of the wealthiest families of the time, the Nevilles. It was with this marriage and acquisition of lands that Richard became a key landholder and influencer across England including Leicestershire, Yorkshire and many parts of Wales.
On 26 June 1483, after his brother’s death Richard was designated as Protector to his nephew King Edward V but instead took the throne himself. He had his two nephews secured in the Tower of London so that they could not be used to spearhead a rebellion against him. He justified this by claiming that his brother’s sons were illegitimate and therefore he was rightful heir to the throne. He was crowned King of England on 6 July.
In the last week of his life, Richard arrived in Leicester on 20 August 1485 to meet with his loyal supporters the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Northumberland. He spent the night at the Blue Boar Inn and then set off the next morning to meet the rebellious army of Henry Tudor, largely composed of French mercenaries. King Richard’s route took him by the West Gate and West Bridge and then across Bow Bridge. Richard’s army camped on Ambion Hill overnight and it is believed that in his tent Richard had his own personal Book of Hours (prayer book). A copy of this book was later retrieved and is now kept in the Lambeth Palace library. The Battle of Bosworth Field was joined early the next morning of 22 August. At the high point of the battle King Richard rode valiantly into the middle of the fighting to confront and attempt to kill Henry Tudor. He came close to succeeding but was unhorsed, surrounded by Henry’s supporters and killed.
After the battle Richard’s body was brought back into Leicester, arriving by the same route as he had left. Henry Tudor had the body displayed ignominiously for a number of days, and then ordered that it be buried in the nearby Franciscan Abbey (Greyfriars), which stood close by to St Martin’s church, now the Cathedral. The burial was carried out in the choir, a private part of the church, and was evidently done hastily and without ceremony but we can be sure would have been with the prayers of the friars. It remained there for the next 527 years, whilst Greyfirars was demolished in the next century, and the site built upon, first as the family home of the Herricks, and later by the Victorians. The remains of King Richard III remained under the ground, where they had been buried, until they were discovered in an archaeological dig in September 2012.
More about Richard III and Leicester
We know King Richard III visited Leicester at least 4 times during his short reign.
- On 17 – 20 August 1483 he stayed at Leicester Castle. He almost certainly would have worshipped at St Mary de Castro church.
- On 22 – 23 October 1483 he mustered troops in Leicester to quell a rising rebellion.
- On 31 July and 5 November 1484 he spent a night at St Mary’s Abbey in Leicester.
- King Richard III chose central Leicester as the place to gather his troops before the imminent battle with Henry Tudor in August 1485.
- For more information, David Baldwin’s ‘Richard III – The Leicester Connection’ is available from Christian Resources Leicester or visit Richard III and Leicester on the City Council website.