Thousands view Richard III’s coffin


Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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Thousands of people have been queuing for a glimpse of Richard III’s coffin 530 years after he fell in battle.

By mid-morning the line stretched from the south door of Leicester Cathedral and around the block past the King’s News newsagents, following yesterday’s extraordinary spectacle of the king’s procession.

Bradley Dubbs from Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States, was first in line at 6.30am, but it was a chillier wait than he had planned after he left his coat on the train.

He had brought a sprig of the broom plant to place inside the cathedral – its name in old French is planta genista, referencing Richard’s Plantagenet lineage.

The 62-year-old “history buff” said walking past the Yorkist king’s remains had seemed “unreal”.

“I came here out of a feeling of wanting to pay my respects,” he added.

Behind him was Richard Heald, from Edinburgh, but once of Leicester.

His three daughters had attended Leicester grammar school, and their old playground was right next to the council car park where the king’s skeleton had lain forgotten.

“I just want to pay respects before he’s put in his tomb,” he said.

Seeing the coffin, covered in a dark pall and flanked by Armed Forces veterans, he called it “amazing and beautiful”.

“It’s quite nice inside – people are being reverent but without being gushing,” he added.

Former prison inspector, teacher and University of Leicester alumni, David Davies had travelled from Bristol, as he does every year to mark the wedding anniversary of his wife who died eight years ago – this year it fell on Sunday.

The 80-year-old said he felt it “a very fitting memorial”.

“With such a chequered history, even after death, it does still demand recognition as he is a king,” he added.

The scenes followed yesterday’s solemn service of compline at the cathedral, where Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, had described Richard as a man born of his own time – “a child of war”.

Bishop of Leicester the Rt Rev Tim Stevens said there was “a tone of recognition” in the city and today’s queues reflected that.

He revealed that during yesterday’s service his own thoughts had turned to his daughter, whose funeral had been held at the cathedral, and that for him, along with many, yesterday it had been a chance to contemplate their own lives.

“Whatever your faith, or whatever part of the tradition you come from, as that coffin entered the church you are brought face to face with your own mortality,” he said.

Before the service yesterday there had been spectacular and almost celebratory scenes as more than 35,000 lined the route of a procession through the county and city of Leicester, as Richard travelled from the University of Leicester to the cathedral.

His cortege also passed near to the place at Bosworth battlefield where he is thought to have died.

There at Fenn Lane Farm, Philippa Langley, the woman who for years had campaigned for a dig to find the king’s remains, said a prayer for all the dead of the battle.

Later, a bier carried his remains atop Ambion Hill overlooking the battlefield, where he was given a 21-cannon salute.

As he was carried to the city’s old medieval boundary at Bow Bridge the mayor Sir Peter Soulsby told a crowd of thousands: “King Richard, may you rest in peace in Leicester.”

After the king’s death at Bosworth in 1485, his body was stripped and, legend had it, thrown into the river.

Sir Peter said: “We welcome King Richard back to Leicester, this most historic and modern of cities.

“No longer slung across a horse but now greeted by us with dignity and honour due a King of England.”

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.

Yesterday also marked the moment the remains, packed in wool inside the lead-lined coffin, were formally transferred to the cathedral from the custody of University of Leicester, whose archaeologists and scientists had identified the king’s bones.

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.

Richard fell at Bosworth on August 22 1485 while fighting Lancastrian forces under the command of Henry Tudor – later Henry VII – bringing the Wars of the Roses to a decisive end.

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 his skull which cleaved away a large portion of bone. Another piercing blow, possibly from a sword, had been driven 4ins (10cm) through his skull.

Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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