Published August 31, 2012
Did Richard just find Richard?
King Richard III, the English monarch who died during the War of the Roses in the 15th century -- and uttered the words “Now is the winter of our discontent” in Shakespeare’s famous play -- was buried in a Franciscan church called Greyfriars, its location ultimately lost. Richard Buckley, the co-director of archaeological services for the University of Leicester, said Friday that he has found strong evidence for the location of the church.
Underneath a Leicester City Council parking lot.
“We have found the Greyfriars and have uncovered tantalizing clues as to the location of the church,” Buckley said at a Friday press conference.
Among the findings so far are medieval window tracery, glazed floor tile fragments, a fragment of stained glass window, part of what may be the Greyfriars cloisters walk and a section of wall which they believe could have belonged to the Greyfriars church, the excavation group said.
These discoveries have led the team to conclude that it was a high-status building, most likely the church.
“It has gone about as well as we could hope for. We aim to dig a contingency trench over the weekend to see if these walls are the church. If this is the case we can point to the area where Richard III might have been buried,” Buckley said.
Richard III was king of England only briefly, from 1483 to 1485. He was defeated and died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 during the War of the Roses, the famous civil war between the houses of Lancaster and York richly brought to life by William Shakespeare.
Richard's stripped and despoiled body was brought to the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars, after the battle. Philippa Langley, of the Richard III society, agreed that the location made sense for the final resting place of the last Plantagent king.
“We are in the right area. We have started to get a sense of where Richard’s body may have been brought. I did not think we would be where we are now at the start of the dig. I am totally thrilled. For me, the whole dig is now coming to life,” Langley said.
To find the church's whereabouts, the team relied on maps from the 18th century to get an idea of property boundaries; then they turned to ground-penetrating radar, which revealed hot spots that could be piles of rubble. But until the church is definitively located and the king's bones found, the team has hedged its words.
"It is very much open to question," Buckley has cautioned several times.
Langley said she hopes the dig will offer an opportunity to learn about the past, and bring the king to a more proper final resting place at last.
"This archaeological work offers a golden opportunity to learn more about medieval Leicester as well as about Richard III's last resting place — and, if he is found, to re-inter his remains with proper solemnity in Leicester Cathedral."
The dig is being filmed for a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary to be aired later this year.