Mocking no longer “the dead bones that lay scattered by”: Richard III… found?

Many years ago I worked for many years at, yes, a Renaissance Fair.  I did lots of Shakespeare on demand and made lots of money doing it.  I met a lot of interesting people, too.  Something of them were interesting and others were only interesting, if you get my drift.

One of the people I met there was a small and deeply intelligent woman, an artist, who was fanatically devoted to anything having to do with Dicken, that is, Richard III.  It took very little effort to convince me that Richard was not the grotesque monster of the play.  To this day I mark 22 August with a certain solemnity, and not just for reason most obvious to readers of this blog.

You might say a prayer for LM, who died a couple years ago.  She would have been thrilled by what I read today.

As I arrive today in what Gaunt calls in another Richard play “this scepter’d isle… this blessed plot…. this England”, I read a story from the BBC sent by a reader indicating that the bones of Richard III, probably, have been discovered beneath a carpark in Leicester.

They are not saying that they have, for sure, found Richard III, but, the skeleton is in good condition, of an adult male, it was found in the choir section which was reported to be the burial place, there is a skull injury consistent with Richard’s reported injury in battle, there is an arrow head in the vertebrae, there are spinal abnormalities, scoliosis of the spine, so that the right shoulder would have been higher than the other.  DNA testing now begins.

Take it away BBC:

Richard III dig: ‘Strong evidence’ bones are lost king

Archaeologists searching for the grave of Richard III have said “strong circumstantial evidence” points to a skeleton being the lost king.

The English king died at the battle of Bosworth in 1485.

A dig under a council car park in Leicester has found remains with spinal abnormalities and a “cleaved-in skull” that suggest it could be Richard III.

The University of Leicester will now test the bones for DNA against descendants of Richard’s family.

Professor Lin Foxhall, head of the university’s School of Archaeology, said: “Archaeology almost never finds named individuals – this is absolutely extraordinary.

“Although we are far from certain yet, it is already astonishing.”

A university spokesperson said the evidence included signs of a peri-mortem (near-death) trauma to the skull and a barbed iron arrow head in the area of the spine.

Richard is recorded by some sources as having been pulled from his horse and killed with a blow to the head.

The skeleton also showed severe scoliosis – a curvature of the spine.

Although not as pronounced as Shakespeare’s portrayal of the king as a hunchback, the condition would have given the adult male the appearance of having one shoulder higher than the other.

Philippe Langley, from the Richard III Society, said: “It is such a tumult of emotions, I am shell-shocked.

“I just feel happy and sad and excited all at the same time. It is very odd.”

As the defeated foe, Richard was given a low-key burial in the Franciscan friary of Greyfriars.

This was demolished in the 1530s, but documents describing the burial site have survived.

The excavation, which began on 25 August, [Perhaps coinciding with the late King’s interment?] has uncovered the remains of the cloisters and chapter house, as well as the church.

Work focused on the choir area, in the centre of the church, where it was indicated Richard was interred.

The bones were lifted by archaeologists wearing forensic body suits in an effort to limit contamination by modern materials.

DNA will be extracted from the bones and tested against descendants of Richard’s family.

Dr Turi King, who is leading the DNA analysis, said: “It is extremely exciting and slightly nerve-wracking.

“We have extracted teeth from the skull, so we have that and a femur, and we are optimistic we will get a good sample from those.”

The tests are expected to take about 12 weeks to complete.

If their identity is confirmed, Leicester Cathedral said it would work with the Royal Household, and with the Richard III Society, to ensure the remains were treated with dignity and respect and reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church.

Work to record the finds are continuing and discussions about when to fill in the trenches are ongoing, officials said.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jon says:

    Here’s an interesting post about the dig, along with a fascinating video of the archaeologists involved:

    And then there’s this!

  2. Ignatius says:

    ” to ensure the remains were treated with dignity and respect and reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church”.

    I hope this means they will give him a Catholic burial.

  3. Dan says:

    Anyone who wants to learn more about Richard III should read Paul Murray Kendall’s “Richard III.” An excellent biography.

    I, too, and wondering which “church” they are referring to. The Church Richard was baptized into, or the one invented by his conqueror’s son?

  4. JPManning says:

    The main stream view seems to be that it is okay to disturb remains provided that they are sufficiently old so that there are no close relatives still alive. This suggests that caring for the dead is motivated by respect for those left grieving. If we believe that burying the dead is a work of mercy for the deceased then isn’t the passage of time irrelevant? Curiosity doesn’t seem to me a good enough reason to disturb someone’s grave.

    I would like to know more about the Church’s teaching on how we care for the dead. Can anyone answer my question or post a link to an article outlining the Church’s teaching on this? Thanks

  5. majuscule says:

    It never occurred to me that they could extract DNA from the remains and compare it to today’s descendants!

  6. acricketchirps says:

    I heard that the descendants against whom they’re doing the DNA testing are all still IIIs. Some of them even also have the same middle name as Richard: “the”.

  7. acricketchirps says:

    Btw I was surprised to learn from a historian friend that Richard III and George III are not related. He seemed to say it was because they lived in different houses, one called York and the other Turnover. I don’t see what that has to do with it but I do get a kick out of the way British people name their houses.

  8. Sissy says:

    JP Manning, I don’t know the Church’s view (I’m guessing it would probably be along the lines you suggest. But in law, length of time doesn’t necessarily change the way in which we are required to honor the dead. For instance, shipwrecks of ships that went down in naval battles remain graveyards not subject to plunder for a very long time. There was a case in my district of a treasure hunter who found a ship lost in the 1700s during a naval battle, and the admiralty court ruled he was not entitled to any of the items he took from the site on the grounds that it was a graveyard. In the case of archaeology, I believe that what normally happens is that the remains are properly and respectfully reinterred after examination. In this case, the family descendant from whom DNA was taken for comparison was quite happy about the discovery, so I suppose that makes a difference, too.

  9. asperges says:

    Some of us are already cavilling at the idea of any protestant interment, Leicester Cathedral is Anglican. There would would probably be a Catholic presence at any service but that is hardly enough. There is the Catholic Dominican priory of Holy Cross nearby, which, although unlikely to be called upon officially, would be far more suitable for the rites of a deceased (Catholic) 14th century king.

    As to disturbing his bones, I think proper burial, even 600 years after, is better than being left in pieces at the bottom of a Council car park. The original Franciscan priory there was demolished at the Reformation.

  10. anna 6 says:

    This is a really cool story.
    We would LOVE to see photos of YOU, Fr. Z. at the Renaissance Faire!
    We took our kids to these fairs when they were little and would I often meet a girl that worked there who I went to college with. The whole time we talked (catching up, gossiping over friends etc) she kept up her old English dialect…thee, thou, etc. It was both impressive and bizarre, simultaneously!

  11. ghp95134 says:

    From the link Jon posted:
    “… a slice had been cut off the skull at the side and back. This is consistent with a bladed implement of some sort, but further laboratory-based analysis of the bones once clean will be needed to fully understand the nature of this injury….”

    I’m reading many other news “reports” parroting (apparently un-researched) “The only known account of his death is in a poem that states he was ”poleaxed to the head.” Other writers attribute the “poleaxing” to The Ballad of Bosworth Field. HOWEVER, after actually reading Bosworth Fielde on the Richard III Society’s page, I find there is no such mention of him being “poleaxed.” The ballad merely states Richard III’s crown was hewn from him — it could’ve been a sword, bill, or poleax … but the weapon is NOT mentioned:

    …about his standard can thé light,
    the crowne of gold thé hewed him ffroe
    with dilfull dints his death thé dight,
    the Duke of Norffolke that day thé slowe.


    Modern version:
    …About his standard can they light,
    The crown of gold they hewed him fro
    With doleful dints his death they dight,
    The duke of Norfolk that day they slew.


  12. PostCatholic says:

    Very cool story. “Dive, thoughts, down to my soul…” Thanks for the book recommendation, Dan, adding it to my list for some future hour in a “weak piping time of peace.”

  13. gracie says:

    Father Z,

    There’s an interesting discussion taking place on The Daily Telegraph about where Richard III’s remains should be re-interred. Part of this discussion is about whether the king should have a State internment (read Anglican) or a Catholic internment. The ones for the Catholic burial are divided by what kind of rites should be used. Some say Sarum, others talk of a York rite – both practiced at that time. Then are those who say Tridentine because it’s the oldest and Richard would have recognized it.

    Adding to that, there’s a debate about the appropriateness of the Tridentine because some say the Rite as presently constituted only goes back to 1570 while others are saying it goes back to the 5th century.

    I was wondering if you could comment on the different Rites they’re talking about. Is the Sarum still available and can it be used still? Is the Tridentine a post-Richard creation that wouldn’t have been in use back then? I know the Mass is the Mass is the Mass but, frankly, the idea of doing a beautiful traditional Mass for Richard II is a very appealing one (at least for me) because it would remind the English of their shared Catholic heritage.

    And finally, man, do the English know their history. It’s a joy just to read their comments on the battles and who was related (or not) to whom and the different takes on the Plantagenet/Tudor saga. Anyway, here’s the link:

  14. Charivari Rob says:

    “If their identity is confirmed, Leicester Cathedral said it would work with the Royal Household, and with the Richard III Society, to ensure the remains were treated with dignity and respect and reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church.”

    If the identity is NOT confirmed, will they still ensure the remains are treated with dignity and respect?

  15. NoraLee9 says:

    If anyone finds MY remains under a car park here in NYC in 600, feel free to reinter me elsewhere.

  16. lizaanne says:

    @JPManning – while I agree with you entirely about the need to respect the dead and not disrupt their grave, we need to remember in this case that (if this is Richard) that he never was properly laid to rest, and has only be lying in the place of his apparent murder for centuries. I think that removing him from this place, and giving him a proper burial is very much the right thing to do, and in keeping with respecting the dead. Far more so than leaving him under a car park.

  17. Philangelus says:

    NoraLee, if they find your remains under a car park in Manhattan, the car park will probably charge you nine dollars an hour for all the years you spent there!

  18. Philangelus says:

    I admit to not understanding the objection to moving this man’s remains (no matter who he is.) Didn’t we just have two posts on this blog about “translating” the remains of saints? It’s okay to move people around; it just has to be done respectfully and for the reason of making sure they’re in a proper place.

  19. mike cliffson says:

    England is not the only place where ,say,car parks , cover despoiled and destroyed catholic churches and houses of prayer and charity. And burial.Some are very recent.
    Prayer is needed that the jokes about NY parking lots be not prophetic.

  20. Michelle F says:

    I also wondered which church, Roman Catholic or Church of England, would get to bury the remains if they prove to be those of King Richard III.

    Also, will they ask his descendents which church they want, or will the state claim him and make the decision? No matter which side makes the decision, I can see them wanting to give him a Church of England burial because they will think he is a “national treasure,” or some such thing.

    Then, of course, there is the question of what they will do if the DNA test is inconclusive. Will we (the Roman Catholic Church) get to bury him because he was found on our property? (I consider the monastery ruins to be Church property even though they are slabbed over with a city/state parking lot.)

    I’m anxious to see how this plays out, but I’m also worried about what will happen to the remains, no matter who they are.

  21. John Nolan says:

    I agree with asperges that Holy Cross Priory would be the most fitting place for the obsequies of the late king, if the discovered remains prove to be his. Apart from anything else, they celebrate the old Dominican Rite on a daily basis. Since this predates Trent by three centuries, it would be a neat solution to the question of which form of Mass to use. Resurrecting Sarum or York just for the occasion smacks of antiquarianism, and although the Anglicans are quite capable of reconstructing one or the other, it would not of course be a valid Mass.

  22. amsjj1002 says:

    I always think of him on October 2nd. Hope the gentleman (whoever it is) gets a Requiem Mass.

  23. Charles E Flynn says:

    Richard III should be buried in the north, by Sunder Katwala, for The Spectator.

  24. Pingback: The Bones of Good King Richard? | Aliens in This World

  25. Mariana says:


    Thanks, that was great! Both of them!

  26. roseannesullivan says:

    Fr. Z, Were the priest that said Mass on Saturday evenings at the MN Renfest? I was Mama Panini at the bakery stage, and I always attended the Mass, and dragged my teenagers over from the Irish cottage and from amongst the street urchins to join me.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    I am afraid all the burials of old bones of Catholics are given Anglican services. This was done under Queen Victoria, for example, when she visited the Tower of London chapel, St. Peter in Chains, and was scandalized by bones of traitors coming up through the floor of the aisles and nave. She demanded that all the bones be given Christian burial, to her credit, but of course, Anglican.

    St, John Fisher and St. Thomas More’s bodies were there and given, ironically, Anglican burial rites.

    St, Thomas’ head is in St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church in Canterbury, but it is no longer on view. I saw it years ago when the crypt was open, which it is not now. That Church is mentioned on my blog.

    St. Thomas a Becket’s skull belongs to the Anglicans, as I have noted here before, but a finger of him is in the Catholic Church of Canterbury.

    Do not expect a Catholic service for Richard III. The high Anglicans think they are Catholic, of course, and do not see the difference.

    By the way, Fr., if you are referring to the famous Minnesota Renaissance fair, I attended that in the 1970s and had a great time. I remember eating toad-in-the -hole. You, were of course, a baby and probably not yet acting Shakespeare. My son is an excellent actor and has done Shakespeare, Wilde, Greek drama and his own stuff. You can see a vignette here of a silly take-off of Monty Python., when he was 18 or so–The Bookstore He is the blond. And, to boot, his dad, also an excellent actor, has done Richard III. He has won awards in England for acting at some places, like at Glyndebourne, but not in recent years. I also did acting in high school and college, but in weird and wonderful plays like Yerma and The Grass Harp. I always played ingénue or walk-on parts because of my small size and very youthful appearance. Sigh, both lost in history…

  28. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I may have met with this in an earlier post (comment) here – and I have not tried to ‘read all about it (again?)’, just now – but, if you look up brunothelabrador at YouTube you will find a film of what I understand to be, not any kind of ‘performance’, but an actual Sarum Use Celebration at Candlemas !

  29. irishgirl says:

    This is very interesting-I thought Richard III’s bones were lost forever at the Dissolution of the Monasteries! Guess not….
    @ Supertradmum: On my first visit to England in 1987, I went to St. Dunstan’s Church, where St. Thomas More’s head is buried. I don’t remember if I saw the Roper vault though. But on my subsequent visits the church was always closed.
    I have a book called ‘The Royal Way Of Death’ which chronicles the rituals of royal funerals from Elizabeth I in 1603 to Lord Mountbatten’s in 1979. There was something mentioned in the Forward of the book about the finding of the bones of a little aristocratic girl who was going to be the bride of King Edward V (one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’). She was found in Stepney, outside of London, during demolition works. She was buried in a former Franciscan nuns’ monastery (the English called them ‘Minoresses’) that was on the site. On the orders of Queen Elizabeth II, the remains were brought to Westminster Abbey for a short burial service [Anglican, of course], and the coffin was placed near the tombs of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, which is called ‘The Innocents’ Corner’.
    And I’m with anna 6: we want to see photos of you, Father Z, at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair!
    I went to a Renaissance fair in Upstate NY a few times in the early 1990s-had a blast, it was such fun!

  30. irishgirl says:

    Oh, I should mention that I bought ‘The Royal Way Of Death’ in the bookshop at Westminster Abbey in 1989, the second time I went to England (but the first time by myself, as were all my subsequent trips). I still have it. It’s pretty cool, learning about the development of funeral customs and rituals in the British Royal Family!
    Hope you’re having a great time ‘across the pond’, Father Z….and I also hope that the weather is good!

  31. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    irishgirl’s comments make me realize what little if any sense I have of how ‘the Royal Way of Death’ changed between the deaths of Henry VII (1509) and Jane Seymour (1537 – 475 years ago, next month!) and, again, Edward VI (1553, after the publication of the second version of The Book of Common Prayer) – or for that matter, anyone’s ‘way of death’ in receiving public Christian burial, during the same period!

    C.S. Lewis interestingly says, in general of a “common man” who had lived through many of the changes of the 16th century, and who had “a conscience much burdened by his own unchastity, profanity, or deficiency in alms-giving, and a religion deeply concerned with the state of the crops and the possibility of making a good end when the time came”, “We may well believe that such a man, though baptized in the Old Religion and dying in the New, did not feel that he had, in any clear sense, either committed apostasy or undergone a conversion. He had only tried to do what he was told in a world where doing what he was told had been, according to all his Betters, the thing mainly demanded of him” (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (OUP, 1954), p. 40).
    But I wonder how it was, and how it seemed and felt, with respect to ‘burial rites’?

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