King Richard III by an unknown artist late 16th Century. Oil on panel on display in room 1 in the National Portrait Gallery
On Monday 4th February 2013 the Greyfriers skeleton which was exhumed several months earlier from a car park in Leicester was officially identified as that of Richard III King of England. Richard III had been buried in the small monastic community of Greyfriers in Leicester. It was known that Henry VII who defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 paid £50 for a monument to be placed over Richards grave.
Local legend had it however that during the dissolution of the monasteries Richards body was exhumed and thrown into the River Soar while his coffin was sold to an Inn Keeper as a horse trough! Some locals however still believed that the body was buried in Leicester. The land once occupied by the Greyfriers Monastery was developed over the intervening years since the dissolution and is now Local Council offices.
The dotted brown line indicates the area identified in 1920 as the extent of the Greyfriars grounds. The University of Leicester 2012 dig positioned the Church, Chapter House, Cloisters and monastic buildings as the pink area shown, with a black dot indicating the location of the grave which contained the remains of Richard III.
Using old maps and previous work to identify the location of the monastery a team from Leicester University identified land suitable for excavation in 2012. Their plan was to dig a number of trenches and hopefully intersect a wall of the monastery. From this they could work out where the choir was which is where Richard was said to be buried.
Amazingly the first trench immediately unearthed two leg bones; these were part of the Greyfriers skeleton which was ultimately identified as the remains of Richard III! Continue reading →
I’m trying something different with this blog post. It would seem that my original idea to write a snappy bite sized slice of history seems to have grown to be more of a rather bloated stodgy cake of history! I’m going to attempt a short Q & A of interesting facts about the Plantagenet’s. This is inspired by Derek Wilson’s brilliant A to Z of The Plantagenets in the November 2011 issue of BBC History Magazine.
Who were the Plantagenets?
The Plantagenet dynasty ruled England longer than any other royal family. Geoffrey of Anjou claimed the crowns of England and Normandy in right of his wife Matilda when Henry I died in 1135. Their son Henry was recognised as hair-apparent in 1154. The Plantagenets ruled until 1485 when Richard III, the last Plantagenet was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor who became Henry VII; the first Tudor Monarch.
What’s a Plantagenet?
In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Anjou wore a sprig of the common broom, known in Latin as the Planta genista in his hat. Plantagenet is a corruption of Geoffrey’s nickname Plantegenest or Plante Genest. Interestingly there is hardly any evidence of the name being used before the mid fifteenth century but has been applied retrospectively as a surname for all descendants of Geoffrey of Anjou. It’s suspected that the name was popularised by Shakespeare.
Who was Edward Longshanks?
Edward I of England
Edward longshanks was the nickname of Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307. Longshanks is a reference to Edwards tall stature and literally means “long legs” or “long shins”. On 2 May 1774, the Society of Antiquaries opened Edward’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. They reported that his body had been well preserved over the preceding 467 years, and measured the king’s body to be 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm). At this length, he would tower over most of his common contemporaries who would average around 5 feet 5 inches (170cm) in height.
Most children are taught in school that modern policing in England started with the Bow Street Runners in London. The author Henry Fielding founded the Runners in 1749; they were unique as they were attached to the Bow Street magistrates’ office and paid from central government funds. Throughout history however the signs of the often rigid enforcement of the law have been visually evident. During the Roman occupation of Britain you would almost certainly have seen crucifixions or perhaps witnessed ad bestias (“to the beasts”) at the amphitheatre, where criminals were forced to face wild animals without the benefit of weapon or armour. Throughout post-Roman Britain and into the Middle Ages you would have seen gallows at crossroads with decomposing naked bodies swinging from the ropes. The putrefied heads of traitors would greet you as you approached the city gates. Every village would have stocks to punish petty offenders and rogue traders would often find themselves in the pillories. Continue reading →