The King and the Car Park

Below is an explanation and general timeline of the archaeological dig that resulted in finding the remains of King Richard III.

King Richard III has now been reintered in Leicester Cathedral and his tomb can be visited during the Cathedral opening hours. More information is available here.

The Search Begins for King Richard III

25th August 2012

First ever archaeological search for the grave of an anointed King of England to begin on anniversary of his burial

The University of Leicester, Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society have joined forces in a search for King Richard III.

On Saturday 25 August 2012 - the 527th anniversary of the date King Richard III was buried in Leicester - the archaeological search for his final resting place began.

The historic archaeological project will aim to discover whether Britain’s last Plantagenet King is buried under a car park in Leicester City Centre. It represents the first ever search for the grave of an anointed King of England.

Led by University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), the University of Leicester has joined with Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society to locate the site of the Greyfriars friary church, wherein the body of Richard III was buried.

In 1485, over half a millennium ago, King Richard III was defeated at the battle of Bosworth. His body, stripped and despoiled, was brought to Leicester where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, Greyfriars.

A tomb was erected over his grave, but the buildings of the Greyfriars, on a site now in the centre of today's busy city, gradually became ruined after Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries (1538). Over time the exact whereabouts of the Greyfriars became lost. It has now been traced to a car park which - by sheer good fortune - has never been built upon.

Richard Buckley, Co-Director of ULAS, said: “There is moderate potential for the discovery of burials within the area of the car park, based both on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church.

‘The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site and also where in the church the body is buried. We have to be realistic- it is a long-shot that we will find Richard III.’

The project's small but dedicated team has undertaken map regression analysis to identify the likely site of the church where Richard was buried - currently in use as a car park for council offices. Ground Penetrating Radar is being employed to help find the best places to cut into the ground.

The dig trench where Richard IIIs remains were found

The dig trench where Richard IIIs remains were found

Philippa Langley, screenwriter and member of the Richard III Society, is one of the guiding lights behind the project. She said:  "This search for Richard's grave is only one aspect of the on-going research effort to discover the real Richard III.

'After his defeat his reputation suffered enormous disparagement at the hands of his opponents and successors, the Tudors. The challenge lies in uncovering the truth behind the myths.’

'Richard III is a charismatic figure who attracts tremendous interest. Partly because he has been so much maligned in past centuries, and partly because he occupies a pivotal place in English history.’

‘The continuing interest in Richard means that many fables have grown up around his grave. Although local people like Alderman Herrick in 1612 knew precisely where he was buried – and Herrick was able to show visitors a handsome stone pillar marking the king's grave in his garden - nevertheless at the same time unlikely stories were spread of Richard's bones being dug up and thrown into the river Soar. Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough.’

‘This archaeological work offers a golden opportunity to learn more about mediaeval Leicester as well as about Richard III's last resting place – and, if he is found, to re-inter his remains with proper solemnity in Leicester Cathedral. A filmed record will be made of the entire historic project.’

Some of the finds that were uncovered during the dig for Richard III

Some of the finds that were uncovered during the dig for Richard III

Richard III Excavation Update12th September 2012

Over the past two weeks, the excavation has made major discoveries about the heritage of Leicester by:

  • Determining the location of the site of the medieval Franciscan friary known as Grey Friars

  • Finding the eastern cloister walk and chapter house

  • Locating the site of the church within the friary

  • Uncovering the lost garden of former Mayor of Leicester, Alderman Robert Herrick

  • Revealing medieval finds that include inlaid floor tiles from the cloister walk of the friary, paving stones from the Herrick garden, window tracery, elements of the stained glass windows of the church and artefacts including, amongst others, a medieval silver penny and a stone frieze believed to be from the choir stalls

The search team has now excavated the choir of the Grey Friars church, believed to be where King Richard III was buried, and has made some stunning discoveries. During the course of the excavation one fully articulated skeleton has been exhumed and it is of interest for five reasons:

  • The remains are in good condition and appear to be of an adult male.

  • The choir is the area reported in the historical record as the burial place of King Richard III. John Rous, reports that Richard “at last was buried in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester”.

  • The skeleton, on initial examination, appears to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma (near death injury) to the skull which appears consistent with (although not certainly caused by) an injury received in battle. A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull.

  • A barbed metal arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the skeleton’s upper back.

  • The skeleton found in the choir area has spinal abnormalities. It is believed that the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis – a different form of spinal curvature. The skeleton was not a hunchback. There appears to be no evidence of a “withered arm”.

A further set of disarticulated human remains was also found in what is believed to be the presbytery of the lost church of the Grey Friars. These remains are female, and, therefore certainly not Richard III.

Both sets of remains are now being examined under laboratory conditions.  DNA analysis will be taken before anything further can be confirmed in the search for Richard III.

The press conference announcing the results of the DNA tests on Richard IIIs remains

The press conference announcing the results of the DNA tests on Richard IIIs remains

February 2013

The University of Leicester announces the skeleton exhumed from the Greyfriars Church is, beyond reasonable doubt, King Richard III.

The University Vice-Chancellor, supported by the city Mayor, formally asks Leicester Cathedral to make preparations for reinterment of the remains in the Cathedral.

First screening of Richard III: The King in the Car Park – Channel 4 documentary telling the story of the excavation and scientific investigation.

Leicester City Council announces plans for Leicester’s Guildhall to host a temporary exhibition telling the story of King Richard III.

A reconstruction of King Richard’s head, commissioned by the Richard III Society and created by experts from Dundee University, is unveiled.

Michael Ibsen, the 17th century generation nephew of Richard III, visits Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

Loughborough University reveals a model of King Richard's skull, made from the CT scan of the skeleton at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

Leicester City Council launches ‘Window Walk’ – an outdoor exhibition screening empty shop fronts, which tell the story of Richard III.

Richard III: Leicester’s Search for a King exhibition opens at the Guildhall.

King Richard III short break packages launched by Leicestershire Promotions, including entry to exhibitions, guided walks and overnight accommodation.

Blue Badge Guide walking tour of King Richard III Leicester begins.

An exhibition entitled The Making of a Myth, depicting the turbulent life of Richard III opens at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

March 2013

Work begins to redevelop Applegate in Leicester’s old town – part of the City Mayor’s Connecting Leicester vision.

Richard III traveling exhibition telling the story of King Richard III visits city libraries.

Rose-laying ceremony marks the Bosworth fallen at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

Broadcaster and journalist, Ian McMillan, is commissioned to write a poem about the Richard III discovery.

Worldwide interest in the Richard III discovery almost doubles visitor figures at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

The newly formed ‘Plantagenet Alliance’ announces that they intend to seek judicial review of the decision to reinter in the Cathedral.

April 2013

50,000 visitors welcomed to Richard III: Leicester’s Search for a King exhibition at the Guildhall.

Richard Buckley opens new exhibition at Snibston Discovery Park entitled ‘Treasure! Shedding Light on Leicestershire’s Past.’

May 2013

Second Visit Leicester Centre opens – Old Town Information Point - in the BBC Radio Leicester building, offering a range of information on local heritage and King Richard III.

A new DVD combining two specially commissioned Channel 4 programmes on the search for King Richard III go on sale.

Archaeologists, from the University of Leicester, publish the first peer-reviewed paper on the archaeology of the Search for Richard III in the prestigious journal.