The royal tombs of England’s kings and queens are scattered throughout the country’s historic abbeys, churches and cathedrals. The sepulchers of the most notable monarchs are located in Windsor Castle in Berkshire and Westminster Abbey in London. Most tombs of all the monarchs are accounted for, except Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 from a blow to the head by a heavy axe. He was buried at an abbey 20 miles from Leicester, England, which ultimately became a parking lot.
Why would a king of England, made famous and infamous by the William Shakespeare’s play that bears his name, be buried in a parking lot instead of at a famous English cathedral or abbey? Surely, no English monarch would ever be intentionally laid to rest in an area where cars rolled over it and park above one of its corpses. Of course, Richard III was not; he was buried in a place that became a parking lot.
The king’s body was buried the same year he was killed but the location of his body became lost over time. His corpse was lain at Grey Friars Church near its altar in Leicester. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in the 1530’s when Henry VIII ordered the dissolution and destruction of English monasteries. Then, in 1600, a mansion with a garden was built over the demolished Grey Friars Church; however, in 1612, Christopher Wren, famous English architect lays a memorial stone over Richard’s corpse in the garden. In 1711, houses started to be built around the mansion. The land and gardens were turned into office buildings in 1914. In the 1930s and 1940s parking lots were built for office buildings.
Between 2004 to 2005, an investigation got underway to locate Richard’s corpse, and a search for his present-day relatives. The search for his remains became trial and error situations until 2012 when two exhumations took place on the parking lot, using sophisticated ground penetrating radar (GPR). Late in 2012, his skeletal remains were painstakingly analyzed. Using forensic facial reconstruction in which putty is painstakingly around the skull, revealed an exact likeness of paintings of the Richard. Also, the complicated DNA testing of Richard’s closest female ancestor of long-lost relatives proved to be a positive match with that of the king’s skeleton.
After more analysis of the skeleton, the spine was curved which confirm what Shakespeare described him as a hunchback. However, scientists who analyzed the bones stated that Richard suffered from scoliosis – a lateral, or sideways curvature of the spine, which must have caused him a great deal of pain. The skull reveals a large hole in the back, which was the deathblow from a large axe that cracked it.
Fortunately, Richard’s remains have been properly reinterred at the modern Leicester Cathedral in England. Perhaps, Richard III can finally rest in peace.
More interesting information can be found in the 2013 edition of “The King’s Grave” by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones, St. Martin Press.