Now that it’s certain that the skeleton found buried under a car park is that of Richard III, Leicester is staging an exhibition about the find, and displaying an exact copy of his skull. Rupert Parker reports.
It’s only a few days since forensic tests revealed that the skeleton found buried under the council car park is definitely that of Richard III and Leicester is bracing itself for an onslaught of visitors. They’ve just opened a small exhibition in the 14th century Guildhall, adjacent to the Cathedral, but there are big plans for a much larger visitor centre scheduled to open in the next 12 months. This should coincide with the reinterment of the bones in Leicester Cathedral where Richard will finally be laid to rest.
This location has not been without controversy. Westminster Abbey is normally the destination for dead royals, and the city of York has also tried to claim the bones but the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, is adamant they will stay in Leicester: “The Ministry of Justice has reaffirmed that, under the terms of the licence granted for the archaeological excavation, the skeleton will be buried here” he said, adding that the Catholic Bishop of Nottingham also supports this decision. The cathedral already has a stone slab dedicated to Richard and it’s likely that the skeleton will be reinterred in the same location.
Canon David Monteith, of Leicester Cathedral, is already thinking about the ceremony which will take place probably in spring 2014. He emphasises that this will not be a funeral, as Richard has already been buried, but says that a reinterment of a British king is something unique: “We can’t just pull a service off the shelf, as this has never been done before”, he says, “What it needs to be is dignified, raise our spirit as a nation, remind us of the eternal love of God and involve the multicultural communities of Leicester”. There is also the possibility that this could be a state occasion, with royalty attending, but it’s too early to say.
What’s certainly true is that the archaeologists were extraordinary lucky to stumble across the body since they could only dig three trenches. King Richard was buried under the choir of Greyfriars church which was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. There were even plans to build on the site, during Victorian times but, fortunately, it remained vacant. It’s still the place where employees of Leicester Social Services park their cars, although space is now limited because of the tent covering the excavation.
Leicester is now congratulating itself on its good fortune and is getting ready for a boom in tourism. There’s already a Richard III walk, which takes you to places that the King visited, although the inn where he stayed before he set off for battle has been replaced by a Travelodge. Bosworth Field, where he met his untimely end, is a half hour drive away and there’s an excellent visitors centre located near the battle field. If you can get there on the weekend of August 18/19, then hundreds of medieval re-enactors will bring history to life as knights, archers and soldiers faceoff to recreate this decisive and bloody battle. Pity the poor man playing King Richard III.
Visit Leicester has information about the city. Http://www.visitleicester.info/visitleicester.aspx
Go Leicestershire has information about the region. http://www.goleicestershire.com/
Visit England has information about the country. http://www.visitengland.com/en/EN/
Bosworth Battlefield. http://www.bosworthbattlefield.com/index.htm