King Richard III of England had the honor of being memorialized in a William Shakespeare play after his death in battle in 1485. Now, modern-day archaeologists are on the hunt for the medieval king's physical resting place.
The University of Leicester, Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society have joined forces to search for the grave of Richard III, thought to be under a parking lot for city council offices. The team will use ground-penetrating radar to search for the ideal spots to dig.
"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," Philippa Langley, a Richard III Society member, said in a statement.
Richard III was King of England from 1483 to 1485. He died during the Battle of Bosworth Field during the War of the Roses, an English civil war between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Richard III was the last English king to die in battle. Shakespeare penned "Richard III," a play about the tragic king, approximately 100 years later.
Regardless of his Shakespeare claim to fame, the king was talked about for his own right. "Richard III is a charismatic figure who attracts tremendous interest, partly because he has been so much maligned in past centuries, and partly because he occupies a pivotal place in English history," Langley said.
"The continuing interest in Richard means that many fables have grown up around his grave." Langley said, adding that some far-fetched tales include that the bones were thrown into the river Soar. [The Science of Death: 10 Tales from the Crypt]
"Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough," Langley said.
After his death, the king was stripped and brought to Leicester, where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Greyfriars. The location of Greyfriars was eventually lost to history.
"The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site and also where in the church the body was buried," University of Leicester archaeologist Richard Buckley said in a statement. "Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long-shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically. There is certainly potential for the discovery of burials within the area, based on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church."
The Leicester car park will be surveyed using ground-penetrating radar on Friday. Then on Saturday -– 527 years to the day since Richard was buried -– Buckley and his team of archaeologists will start work on two trenches across the car park.
If remains that could be Richard III are found, they will be subject to DNA analysis at the University of Leicester.
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