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One Year On: Revisiting the Reburial of Richard III

On Thursday 26 March 2015, the reburial of King Richard III took place at Leicester Cathedral. One year on, the city of Leicester has chosen to mark this historic day with a special programme of commemorative events taking place at the Cathedral, Guildhall, St. Martin’s House and Leicester Market. The programme will include a reflective ceremony celebrated twelve months to the day, with the laying of roses in the Cathedral gardens.

Roses featured strongly in the imagery surrounding the reinterment week of 21-29 March 2015; the white Yorkist rose being sold at many sites in the streets of Leicester, bearing the words “RIII, With Dignity and Honour”. Many such roses had been respectfully laid in front of the statue of Richard III, which had been moved from its original location in the Castle gardens so as to stand appropriately, at a halfway point between the Greyfriars car park site where his remains were discovered and the Cathedral, where his body would now find its final place of rest. Since the sensational find in the Greyfriars site in 2012 and the subsequent confirmation of the King’s remains through establishing mitochondrial DNA links with living descendants of Richard III’s family through his sister, Anne of York, a process began which finally resulted in Leicester being named as the city that would receive the King’s remains.

Poignantly as it would turn out, the site where the body of King Richard III had rested for over five hundred years, was not more than a hundred steps from the Cathedral where he would now be reburied. The King’s memory had however, been commemorated in the Cathedral long before the Looking for Richard Project joined with Leicester City Council and Leicester University to engage in the search to find his mortal remains; the Cathedral had contained a memorial tablet in its chancel, dating from the year 1982. This tablet may now be seen in the King Richard III Centre, opposite the entrance to the area where his remains were found, today built over and at the time of the reburial commemorations, flanked by two bouquets of white roses.

During the historic procession into the city, the horse-drawn gun carriage bearing the King’s coffin passed over Bow Bridge, where there was a short public ceremony, to mark the official entry into the city. Incidentally, a Victorian plaque next to Bow Bridge still commemorates the fact that the King’s remains were originally believed to have been thrown into the river Soar although there is absolutely no evidence to support such a theory. The Stuart cartographer and antiquarian John Speed concluded that according to local legend, the King’s body had been “borne out of the City, and contemptuously bestowed under the end of Bow-Bridge, which giveth passage over a branch of Soare upon the west side of the town.”

The Cathedral received the King’s remains on 22 March, after which the body of King Richard III, contained within the casket made by his descendant in the 17th generation, the Canadian-born cabinet-maker Michael Ibsen, went on public view for three days, covered in a beautifully embroidered pall made especially for the occasion. Over twenty thousand people came to Leicester Cathedral to contemplate and reflect upon the historic event and view the casket of King Richard lying in repose; the Cathedral staying open until the evening to accommodate the number of people who had come to pay their respects. It is notable that a crown had been placed upon the King’s coffin; which had been commissioned to represent the regaining in death of the crown that had been lost at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 in which the King perished, acknowledged even by his enemies as having fought with great bravery – a fact which the analysis of his remains certainly has borne out.

On Thursday 26 March, King Richard III was finally laid to rest, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Leicester officiating, with the Bishop of Leicester leading the sermon. The following day a service took place to reveal the tomb of King Richard III and over 8,000 flames were lit in Jubilee Square and the Cathedral gardens, against the backdrop of the Cathedral itself which was illuminated for the occasion.

Now one year on, the city of Leicester is remembering these historic commemorations in a short series of events beginning on the first anniversary of the reinterment and concluding on 1 April. A photography exhibition has been launched at the Richard III Centre to form a montage from some of the many thousands of photographs taken by the visiting public on the reburial day. Along with the more traditional Easter children-orientated activities in the Cathedral, music from the reinterment week is being performed by Leicester Cathedral Choir.

A special commemorative service consisting of the laying of roses will take place on Saturday 26 March in the Cathedral gardens and at the Richard III statue. The anniversary week is then set to continue with medieval cookery events, theatre and two themed workshops.

In addition, a 3-D computer model of Richard III’s original grave at the Greyfriars car park site has been reconstructed by Archeological Services at the University of Leicester, showing his skeleton in the exact position in which it was found four years ago. It will allow us, with tremendous immediacy, to recapture that first moment when his remains were uncovered and to virtually ‘descend’ into the grave at the Greyfriars site.

The commemorations that the city has organised will allow us to reflect upon the importance of that reinterment week and to revisit the historic events that took place a year ago.