The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds

The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds

by Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466842700
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/22/2013
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 99,619
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

PHILIPPA LANGLEY is a screenwriter and producer who inaugurated and led the successful archaeological search to locate King Richard III's grave in Leicester. Her 90 minute documentary about the search for King Richard with Channel Four / Darlow Smithson Productions was aired on 4th February 2013. She won the Richard III Society's Robert Hamblin Award in 2012. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. The King's Grave is her first book.

MICHAEL JONES is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History and now works freelance as a writer and media presenter. He has written eight books, including The King's Mother, his highly-praised biography of Margaret Beaufort which was shortlisted for the Whitfield Prize, and Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, regarded as a seminal work on Richard III and the battle of Bosworth. He lives in England.

PHILIPPA LANGLEY is a screenwriter and producer who inaugurated and led the successful archaeological search to locate King Richard III’s grave in Leicester. Her 90 minute documentary about the search for King Richard with Channel Four / Darlow Smithson Productions was aired on 4th February 2013. Her screenplay Blood Royal on the life of King Richard, the most divisive, controversial monarch in British history, is based on Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, the seminal work on the battle by the historian Michael Jones, co-author of The King’s Grave.  With a supernatural thriller, Gemini Rising, in development with Better Pictures, Philippa is also writing The Council, a TV dramatization about the formation of the Christian Church and based upon a modern re-interpretation of the shocking events at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Philippa is a TAPS writer and finalist in Channel Four’s Talent ‘Son of the Pitch’ competition and SWF’s Scriptmarket. She is also a BAFTA Rocliffe shortlisted writer and regular contributor to the Richard III Society’s Bulletin magazine. She won the Richard III Society’s Robert Hamblin Award in 2012. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. The King’s Grave is her first book.
Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the British Commission for Military History, and has taught at the University of South West England, Glasgow University, and Winchester College. The author of Stalingrad: How the Red Army Survived the German Onslaught, Leningrad: State of Siege, and The Retreat: Hitler's First Defeat. Jones has conducted battlefield tours of the Eastern Front for several years.

Read an Excerpt

The King's Grave

The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds

By Philippa Langley, Michael Jones

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Philippa Langley and Michael Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-4270-0


The Road to the Dig

If my gut instinct was correct, how did the medieval Greyfriars Church become a modern car park? Most historical sources agreed that following his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, King Richard III had been buried at the Church of the Greyfriars in Leicester, and ten years later Henry VII had paid for a tomb. Further investigation revealed that in 1538 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries the church was closed and fell into ruins. By 1611, the map maker John Speed reported the place was 'overgrown with nettles and weeds' and King Richard's grave 'not to be found'. But it is also known that Robert Herrick, a former Mayor of Leicester, had bought part of the Greyfriars site and built himself a mansion. In 1612 Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, noted that in Herrick's garden there was 'a handsome stone pillar', three feet tall, inscribed with: 'Here lies the body of Richard III some time King of England'. The Greyfriars site subsequently passed through several owners until, in the early twentieth century, it was tarmacked over to become car parks. Later, part of it was sold to Leicester City Council Social Services Department and it had been in its car park that I had had my unsettling experience.

As I continued to flesh out Richard's character for revised drafts of my screenplay, the conclusion to his story started to frustrate me. He was the last English warrior king, but had no known grave. Any search for that grave would be fanciful and irrational, particularly since stories abounded about his bones being removed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries and thrown into the River Soar. There was also the question mark over the Greyfriars Church: where was it? Furthermore, supposing human remains were found, how could they be identified as those of Richard III?

Then, everything changed.

Dr John Ashdown-Hill, historian, genealogist and member of the Richard III Society, made a most remarkable discovery. Having traced an all-female line of descent from Richard's elder sister, Anne of York, to Joy Ibsen, an elderly lady living in Canada, he identified King Richard's mitochondrial DNA sequence. It was a rare one. Only 17 per cent of the population had haplogroup 'J' for Jasmine, but, further, only 1.5 per cent had this particular haplotype, JIC2C.

The science was compelling. Female mitochondria are the most plentiful DNA in the human body. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the hereditary material present in all cells of living organisms and the main ingredient of our chromosones, giving us our distinctive genetic characteristics. We each receive our mtDNA from our mother but it is only passed on through the female line, from mother to daughter. Having the mtDNA sequence of Richard III was crucial, since it represented the best opportunity for the survival of DNA within ancient remains because of its quantity, and also offered the greatest potential for a positive identification. The fact that it was a rare type of mtDNA was an added bonus. In addition, the female line of descent is generally considered more trustworthy than the male, because the official, named mother of a child is usually the child's authentic biological mother.

But how, and why, had the DNA discovery come about? Ashdown-Hill had been working with leading DNA expert Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman at the Centre for Human Genetics, University of Leuven, Belgium, to try to establish whether bones found in Mechelen in the mid-twentieth century could be the remains of Margaret of Burgundy (1446–1503), an elder sister of Richard III. In the mid-twentieth century, three sets of bones had been discovered and Ashdown-Hill's research had concluded that one of these might be those of Margaret. He now needed to compare Joy Ibsen's mtDNA with that in the ancient bones; a match would confirm the remains as those of Richard's sister. There was only one problem: some time in the past, one set of bones had been coated with varnish as a preservative, making it impossible to isolate DNA, while the other sets may have been contaminated by handling over the years.

Although Ashdown-Hill was unable to extrapolate the ancient mtDNA from the Mechelen bones to identify them, it was a game-changing discovery. I now knew that if we did go in search of King Richard's body, we would be able to identify him. In autumn 2005 I contacted Ashdown-Hill, and suggested he write to Time Team, the archaeological TV show, proposing a search for Richard's grave in the Social Services car park. Time Team replied that their three-day dig format was not compatible with a search of such a large area. Of course, I couldn't tell them (or Ashdown-Hill) why I felt that three days might just be enough.

Then, in late summer 2007, an archaeological excavation took place in Grey Friars Street in Leicester where a small single-storey 1950s extension at the NatWest/Pares Bank site was being demolished to make way for a block of flats. Undertaking the archaeology was University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), and what they discovered or, more precisely, what they did not discover, changed my plans irrevocably.

The dig was in the Greyfriars area, but the only find that suggested there might have been a medieval church in the vicinity was a fragment of a stone coffin lid found in a post-medieval drain. The dig was dismissed locally as of little importance, but I disagreed. It suggested that the Greyfriars Church was located further to the west of the Greyfriars area than had been assumed, away from the heavily developed eastern part towards the car parks, open spaces ripe for archaeological investigation.

I wrote to Leicester City Council's archaeologist, Chris Wardle, requesting further information on the dig, but received no response. However, after I encouraged the Richard III Society to make contact, Wardle was persuaded to write an article for the society's Ricardian Bulletin, which gave me a much clearer picture of the Greyfriars area.

It had previously been asserted that Richard might have first been buried in the Church of the Annunciation in the Newarke in Leicester, but in 2008 John Ashdown-Hill found more evidence to support the Greyfriars Church burial. And in her book Richard III: The Maligned King, Annette Carson examined sources contemporary with Richard III (i.e. pre-Tudor) with the aim of uncovering the man behind the myth, and proved that it was possible to discover the king's real character. The Maligned King suggested that the king probably still lay undisturbed where he was originally buried in the Greyfriars Church, which was most likely situated under the private car park of the Department of Social Services. It was the first book I had read to make this claim.

The next piece in the jigsaw once more came from John Ashdown-Hill. While researching Richard's burial, he discovered that it was John Speed who had started the story about the removal of Richard's remains, as a means of explaining why he could find no trace of Richard's grave. But Speed's map showed that he had been looking for the grave in the wrong place. He had been looking in the Blackfriars (Dominicans) site, not the Greyfriars (Franciscans), and it was the Blackfriars site he had reported as overgrown with nettles and weeds. Ashdown-Hill concluded that the body of Richard III had not been dug up in 1538 and was therefore still at the Greyfriars site.

So the question remained: where was the Greyfriars Church? The street names and the recent dig in Grey Friars Street appeared to confirm my instinct that the burial place was on the northern side of the Social Services car park where I had had my experience. But I needed evidence, without which no one could be expected to take me seriously.

Then, researching in the Richard III Society's archives, I found a copy of a medieval map from Leicestershire County Council records. This showed the Greyfriars Church opposite St Martin's Church (now Leicester Cathedral) at what is now the northern end of the Social Services car park. I had my smoking gun (see map).

In February 2009 I invited Ashdown-Hill to Edinburgh to give a series of talks to the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society about his mtDNA discovery and the history of Richard's burial place in Leicester. His research into priory churches, particularly mendicant orders reliant upon begging such as the Greyfriars, showed their churches were located alongside major roads. The Greyfriars Church must, he said, be on the northern side of the Social Services car park.

We broke for lunch at the Cramond Inn where I announced my intention to search for King Richard's grave. I would need the permission of Leicester City Council (LCC), the car park landowners, and would have to commission, and pay for, a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey that would use radar pulses to locate subsurface anomalies, and the archaeological dig to follow. Dr Raymond Bord, the branch's treasurer, had a contact in Leicester, while Dr David and Wendy Johnson had details for one of the key Time Team members. I also urged John Ashdown-Hill to write to ULAS, the local archaeological team.

Time Team confirmed their lack of interest, and ULAS didn't respond. It was a blow, but I was undaunted. As Ashdown-Hill left to take up a university post in Turkey, the recession hit hard. My priority had to be to get LCC behind a search for the grave. I needed some powerful means of persuasion: I needed television.

By September 2010, having sounded out the TV industry, I approached Dr Bord's Leicester contact (retired lawyer Paul Astill) who put me in touch with local councillor Michael Johnson, and through him I contacted Sheila Lock, LCC's chief executive. I proposed a TV documentary special, Looking for Richard: In Search of a King. UK archaeological units had confirmed that archaeological practice was to reinter as close as possible to the point of discovery, so Leicester Cathedral (situated directly opposite the projected area of exploration) was proposed in the pitch as the place for reburial. Within weeks, Lock had written to confirm LCC's interest.

I now commissioned the Johnsons, founding members of the project from its inception at the Cramond Inn and who were supporting my search, to design a tomb for Richard. Historian David and his artist wife Wendy had over forty years' experience in researching Richard III. My own research now widened to include the law on burials and exhumation, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) policy, and the funeral customs of medieval kings. I would be searching for the mortal remains of an anointed King of England, an unprecedented goal, for which no guidelines existed. I would use desk-based research to underpin what principles I could, together with advice from the relevant authorities.

The law on the exhumation of named individuals with living relatives sets out the decency and privacy with which the exhumation must be carried out. Exhumations of, and archaeological reports on, dead soldiers from the two world wars, for example, carry an important prohibition: archaeologists are not free to publish photographs of the remains unless surviving relatives give their permission. However, there is no law protecting the remains of named individuals dating from more than 100 years ago. The only case that gave any clues as to seemly conduct was the discovery of the remains of Anne Mowbray, Duchess of York and Norfolk, who died in 1481 aged eight. Her coffin had been discovered by workmen clearing the site of a church in east London in 1964 and an archaeologist began an investigation of the remains, but without obtaining any proper consent. After questions in the House of Lords, Mowbray's relatives closed the investigation, but their action came too late to stop pictures of the remains being published in the newspapers. It was a lesson in what not to do, as I pointed out to the authorities.

The Reburial Document was ready. Drawn up by Dr David and Wendy Johnson, its purpose was to convince potential partners that the Looking for Richard project was serious and viable. Its eleven pages, together with the pitch document, set out the ethos behind the project, which would have two main aims:

• to search for the grave of Richard III, and, if found, honour him with a reburial and tomb;

• to attempt to bring to life the real man behind the myth.

I wanted my project to be a unique attempt to get to the truth. Furthermore, the search for an anointed King of England was incredibly sensitive, in Richard's case particularly so. After the Battle of Bosworth, his naked body had been slung over a horse, taken into Leicester, and placed on public display. In the retelling of his story, I did not want Richard III subjected to public humiliation again.

The project would also honour Richard with a tomb, and the Reburial Document included the first sketches of the design. Two ceremonies were proposed: a solemn Vespers for the Dead at the reinterment, followed by a later Service of Celebration.

All this was jumping the gun. We still didn't know the precise site of the Greyfriars Church, but there was one key fact in our favour. Research had yielded only seven other potential named burials inside the church, of which only one, Sir William Moton of Peckleton, could be said with any certainty to have been buried there. It seems the vow of poverty taken by the Greyfriars (followers of St Francis of Assisi) and a treasonous rebellion by some of the order in 1402 against Henry IV might have kept the burials inside the church to a minimum, and so reduced the likely number of graves.

I had obtained the TV rights to John Ashdown-Hill's book, The Last Days of Richard III, which provided the research behind the project, to protect it from acquisitive producers. Now I put in a confidential call to Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, who offered whatever help the society could provide. Over the coming months he would become my mentor and guide, his quiet determination adding a backbone of steel to the project's endeavours. Dr Stone suggested that he take me to the office of the society's patron, since he thought that Richard, Duke of Gloucester might be interested in a search to find the grave of his medieval namesake. At the meeting, it was confirmed that I would be the nominated point of contact for the duke for the project and keep his office informed of any developments.

The Reburial Document was given to the MoJ, Leicester City Council and Leicester Cathedral, who were all satisfied that the precautions set out in the document would protect Richard's honour and dignity. At the MoJ, we discussed the Anne Mowbray case and how an exhumation would ensure that all decency be afforded King Richard upon discovery of his remains. The concerns of relatives (as with those of any other remains having known living relatives) would be taken into account in the drafting of the Exhumation Licence. However, the MoJ warned that it could not act in this by itself, and the protections and protocols I required for the remains should be inserted into my agreements with the local authorities.

In Leicester it had been agreed that the Looking for Richard project would receive LCC's support and backing through the office of its CEO, and the council would work directly with me as the originator/client. However, due to the recession, it would not be able to provide any direct funding, but would act as the project's main facilitator. This would allow me access to the council's experts, including their museum services who would advise on all aspects of the dig, with particular reference to the care of ancient artefacts, and the highways department who would reinstate the car parks, and also offer introductions to local businesses and funding bodies. LCC also confirmed that it would give me permission to dig in its car park on the understanding that, if found, King Richard III would be reburied in the nearest consecrated ground, Leicester Cathedral.

To have any hope of getting the project under way, I now needed funding, and a recognized archaeological team willing to do the dig, as well as the costing. Finding the right team would be crucial. The UK archaeological teams I had contacted had been sceptical about the search, and didn't know the terrain. However, LCC had recommended a local archaeologist with whom it had worked: talented and sensitive, Richard Buckley, co-director of ULAS, might be just what the project needed, and his colleague, Harriet Jacklyn, was an equally experienced osteologist. I recognized the ULAS name immediately as the team that had undertaken the Grey Friars Street dig but hadn't responded to Ashdown-Hill's previous proposal to search for Richard III's grave. They were a leading archaeological unit with a considerable reputation and wouldn't want to be seen setting off on any wild-goose chase so it would be a difficult sell. In January 2011 I telephoned Richard Buckley, who was intrigued by the project, but not convinced. He knew where the sizeable Greyfriars precinct was and the potential the car parks offered, but said he would have to do further research and only if this came up with anything would he be interested in taking matters further. I duly sent him the pitch and Reburial Document. In March 2011 I met Sarah Levitt, Head of Arts and Museum Services and lead on the project for LCC. She understood the sensitivities surrounding the search for the remains of a named individual and would be happy to include protections within our agreement. An agreement, however, was a long way off. Once we had archaeologists on board (she also recommended Buckley) she would help with introductions to local funding bodies.


Excerpted from The King's Grave by Philippa Langley, Michael Jones. Copyright © 2013 Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Family Trees,
Introduction: The Inspiration,
1. The Road to the Dig,
2. The Great Debate,
3. So It Begins,
4. Yearning for a Noble Cause: Richard's Early Career,
5. The Discovery of the Church and the Location of the Nave,
6. Seizing the Throne,
7. The Discovery of the Skeletal Remains,
8. Richard as King,
9. The Identification of the Remains,
10. Bosworth,
11. The Man Behind the Myth,
12. The Man and His Times,
Appendix 1: The Fate of the Princes in the Tower,
Appendix 2: Psychological Analysis of Richard III,
Picture Credits,
Also by Michael Jones,

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The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An exceptional read! Each chapter switches from the search for Richard's remains (Langley) to Jones taking the reader into the world of Richard. III. In the appendix, a marvelous point-counterpoint view concerning the mystery of the two princes in the Tower of London. Congratulations to all who participated in this historical find. I will never watch Shakespeare's Richard III again in the same way. And never will anyone else after reading this book. Fascinating!   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She lies besides a peice of ground with an &dagger marking samiliar to the one on her chest.