• Leicester’s Franciscan friary was founded in the early 13th century and occupied a site south of Leicester Cathedral for 300 years
  • Alderman Robert Herrick bought the friary site in the late 16th century. In his garden, he marked the site of King Richard III’s grave with an inscribed stone pillar
  • Richard III was buried in the choir of the Grey Friars church in 1485. Archaeologists rediscovered the king’s remains beneath a Leicester city centre car park in 2012

Leicester’s Franciscan friary

Franciscan friars first arrived in Leicester in the early 13th century. Their friary occupied a large walled precinct south of St Martin’s Church (now Leicester Cathedral) and west of Leicester’s Saturday market place, between two important medieval thoroughfares, Friar Lane and St Francis’ Lane (Peacock Lane today).

The first reference to a friary building dates to 1255 when Eleanor, Countess of Leicester persuaded her brother King Henry III to grant oak trees to the friars to make ‘[choir] stalls and for panelling their chapel’, implying the near-completion of the choir of the church at this time. The nave of the church, with a north aisle was completed thirty-five years later in 1290. Other documented buildings include a chapter house, a refectory and an infirmary. The friary also had large areas of garden within its precinct and a cemetery was situated between the church and St Francis’ Lane.

In 1300, at least eighteen friars resided at Leicester and by the mid-14th century there may have been as many as 20-30 friars in the community. However, numbers may have begun to drop after the arrival of the Black Death in 1348 and by the early 16th century there were probably less than a dozen friars left.

A reconstruction of what the friary may have looked like in the late 15th century, looking north-west. De Montfort University/Digital Building Heritage Group

Why is it called Grey Friars?

Franciscan friars – named after their founder, the Italian St Francis of Assisi – were nicknamed Grey Friars because of the colour of their clothing, a gown of grey cloth and a belt of rope with three knots symbolising their vows. Their official title is the ‘Order of Friars Minor’.

Grey Friars and Richard III

Today, Grey Friars is best known as the original burial place of King Richard III. Following his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, King Richard’s body was brought back to Leicester to be put on public display to prove that he was truly dead. This probably took place at the Newarke and the king’s body was subsequently given a simple Christian burial in the choir of the Grey Friars church.

Grey Friars and Henry VIII

Henry VIII ordered the friary to be demolished in 1538. The land was sold off, and over the centuries it was redeveloped and built on many times. By the mid-20th century, what had once been a religious friary had become a site for a school, council offices and a car park.

Rediscovering the friary

Archaeologists excavating at the friary site in 2012 and 2013, during the search for Richard III’s last known resting place, identified the friary’s chapter house, parts of the eastern cloistral range and the eastern end of the friary church, including the choir and the sanctuary. The evidence - wall lines, the remains of tiled floors, stone benches, choir stalls and other tombs – was used to reconstruct what the friary might have looked like.

Produced by De Montfort Universities acclaimed Digital Building Heritage Group, this short film shows a digital reconstruction of what Grey Friars Priory would have looked like.

In 2017, Historic England declared much of the site a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which means ‘a nationally important archaeological site that has protection against unauthorised change’.

What remains of the friary today?

Very little remains of the friary today. Richard III’s original grave and part of the church floor can be seen in the Richard III Visitor Centre. A small piece of stone wall, probably a boundary wall, can be seen in a private car park near to the Cathedral end of New Street.

A number of artefacts from the friary that were found during archaeological excavations can be seen in the 'Medieval Galleries' at the Guildhall.

Find out how to visit the Guildhall.

Visitor information
Artefacts can be seen at The Guidhall

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

Change time period...
  • Roman Leicester
  • Medieval Leicester
  • Tudor & Stuart Leicester
  • Georgian Leicester
  • Victorian Leicester
  • Edwardian Leicester
  • Early 20th Century Leicester
  • Modern Leicester
story of leicester
Your ultimate guide to visiting the city