Church Monuments Society

fig1Richard III procession 19: Courtesy of Leicester Cathedral

One king – three churches: the tombs of Richard III

Month: January 2023
Type: Cross Slab  
Era: 21st Century

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Leicester Cathedral
Peacock Lane, Leicester LE1 5PZ

More about this monument

After the remarkable discovery of his remains in 2012, Richard III was reburied in Leicester Cathedral with a striking modern monument.

The remains of King Richard III were miraculously discovered in a car park in 2012 and subsequently reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. Richard had been buried in 1485 in the church of the Grey Friars, presumably in haste because the grave was too short for his body. His reinterment was consciously planned so that he would be treated “With Dignity and Honour.”

The Leicester Cathedral website describes Richard’s tomb (figs. 1 and 2): “The stone chosen is a Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire. This was chosen not only because it will polish to a fine finish, but also because the fossils within it are long dead creatures immortalised now in stone.

The darker Kilkenny marble plinth frames the tomb and provides a beautiful surface for letter cutting – the cut surfaces will appear white – which ensures that the details of Richard’s name, dates and motto can be clearly read.

King Richard’s importance and characteristics are recognised in the inlaid stone coat of arms which is made in a variety of marble and semi-precious stones.

Richard’s remains are laid in a lead ossuary which is itself placed in a coffin made from English oak. The coffin is placed in a brick lined vault below the floor of the Cathedral, with the tomb stone sealing it closed.”

The motto “Loyaulte me lie” means “Loyalty binds me.” The oak coffin was made by Michael Ibsen who is descended from Richard III’s sister, Anne of York. Michael was one of the people whose DNA was used to confirm that the remains found were indeed Richard’s.

The architects were Van Heyningen and Haward. The design of the tomb was not without controversy. The Cathedral wanted something modern whereas others thought a medieval style would have been more appropriate.

James Elliott was the stonemason who sculpted the 6-tonne block of Swaledale Fossil Stone. He commissioned Alex J Wright to make a video of its carving and installation and this can be viewed online at https://www.alexjwright.co.uk/king-richard-iii-making-of-the-tomb-filmmaker-alex-j-wright-commissioned-james-elliott.

Gary Breeze carved the boars and Stuart Buckle, the lettering on the Kilkenny marble plinth. Thomas Greenaway was responsible for the royal coat of arms (fig. 3) which was made using the traditional technique of pietra dura. This involved cutting and fitting together over 350 pieces of stone. The blue is Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan and the red, Duke’s Red Limestone quarried on the Chatsworth Estate in 1823.

Richard III was killed fighting for his crown at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. He was taken to Leicester and his naked body put on display, possibly in the church of the College of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a Lancastrian church containing, amongst others, a monument to the 1st Duke of Lancaster. This may have been intended as a further insult to the Yorkist Richard.

After a few days Richard was buried by the Franciscan Friars in their church. In 1495 Henry VII paid for an alabaster tomb to be placed over the grave. There was also an epitaph, thought to have been on a bronze plaque placed near the tomb. (For details of this, see John Ashdown-Hill, The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of his DNA, History Press, 2013.) However, the Friary was abandoned after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 and there was a local story that Richard’s body was dug up and thrown into the River Soar.

But an archaeological excavation in 2012 incredibly found what turned out to be Richard’s remains on the very first day. After extensive investigations Leicester University announced in February 2013 that they had in fact found Richard III. Arrangements were then put in hand to reinter his body in Leicester Cathedral and this took place in 2015.

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