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Published: Sunday 22nd March 2015 by The News Editor
Richard III has begun the journey to his final resting place more than 500 years after his death in battle.
A series of services and a procession heavy with symbolism are under way in Leicester as the last Plantagenet king’s mortal remains are borne away to the city’s cathedral.
At the University of Leicester, whose archaeologists discovered the king buried under a council car park in 2012, the first of a series of ceremonies is being held to send Richard on his way.
Members of the Richard III Society including Philippa Langley – who campaigned for years to mount a dig for the king’s grave – have attended the service.
Afterwards, the king is due to be carried in a cortege through the Leicestershire countryside to Bosworth battlefield where, in 1485, he fell in battle against Henry Tudor.
Later, he will arrive back in the city at its old medieval boundary of Bow Bridge before being taken around the city centre and on to the cathedral atop a horse-drawn gun carriage.
Crowds of people are expected to witness the once-in-a-lifetime event, including many modern-day supporters of Richard – some of whom have travelled from abroad – who have been captivated by the re-discovery of the king and his human story.
Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, said this week’s events, concluding Thursday with a service to rebury the king in the cathedral, marked “the beginning of the end of this part”.
“Our work will continue, in perhaps convincing the doubters Richard wasn’t as black as he was once thought to be,” he said.
“His reburial at the end of the week will have all the dignity and solemnity that his original burial never had.”
Commenting on reports the Queen has prepared a tribute to be read out at this evening’s service of compline at Leicester Cathedral later, he welcomed the move.
That service will be attended by the Countess of Wessex and also by Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in recognition of Richard’s faith.
Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said the service would be “intimate, thoughtful and an emotional moment”.
“It happens at dusk as the sun sets and as the thoughts of people always turns to the night and to the possibility of death,” the bishop said.
The service of compline itself, where the king’s coffin will lie in repose inside the cathedral, traces its roots “back to the pre-Reformation church” and had been chosen because of its links to Richard’s Catholic faith.
Bishop Stevens said it would be an emotional moment when the coffin was borne into the cathedral, not only for its symbolism but in remembrance of Richard the man.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to remind people of the extraordinary moment in English history the death of Richard III marks,” he said.
“It was a change of dynasty, an end of a period of violent civil war, the beginning of the period in which Shakespeare was to write his great tragedies, including Richard III, and a different way of governing the country.
“That’s an important point for all of us, whether we happen to be Christian observers or not.”
The king’s grave site had been thought lost to history until archaeologists discovered his crook-backed skeleton in the remains of an old monastery beneath a Leicester City Council car park.
Ms Langley battled for years for a dig on the site, despite rumours Richard’s body had been dumped in the city river after his death.
Before reaching the cathedral, today’s cortege will visit landmarks connected to Richard’s fateful final journey to Bosworth battlefield.
It was there, near Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, where in August 1485 he fell while fighting Lancastrian forces under the command of Henry Tudor – later Henry VII, bringing a decisive end to the Wars of the Roses.
Today also marks the moment Richard is formally transferred to the cathedral from the custody of University of Leicester, whose archaeologists and scientists identified the king’s remains.
The Dean of Leicester Cathedral, the Very Rev David Monteith, said while today’s service would be a solemn occasion, it would not be a funeral.
“There are no people immediately affected by this death in the way a close family member dying would have an impact upon you,” said the Dean.
“That’s not to say there isn’t sadness about it and certainly for some a great sense of injustice.
He added: “There’s a sense of trying to put some things right from the past.
“But I’m aware you can’t undo history, you have to live with history as it is and try to understand it.
“There’s an opportunity for us to make history and I hope that becomes vivid and clear.”
The Dean added the “theme of reconciling differences” was one which was “as real today, as it would have been in Richard’s time”.
Contemporary accounts after the battle told of how Richard’s remains were buried “without pompe or solemne funeral” in the Greyfriars monastery.
When archaeologists uncovered his skeleton in August 2012, they found evidence of a hasty burial, with a grave so short the king’s head was propped up against its side.
He had suffered eight wounds to his head, among them a brutal slash to the base of skull which cleaved away a large portion of bone.
Another piercing blow, possibly from a sword, had been driven 4ins through his skull.
In contrast to his violent end, Richard’s coffin will lie in repose following today’s service, where it can be viewed by the general public from tomorrow.
Then, on Thursday, his remains will be lowered into a purpose-built tomb made of Yorkshire Swaledale stone, before visitors are allowed back inside the cathedral to see the completed memorial the following day.
His final rest has been delayed by months after distant relatives brought a legal challenge through the courts arguing he should be reburied in York.
However, judges ruled in favour of Leicester, paving the way for a week of events marking the king’s life and death, starting with the cortege today.
Published: Sunday 22nd March 2015 by The News Editor