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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Reburial of King Richard III in Leicester

Today Richard III of England, the last of the Plantagenet kings, is being laid to rest in a solemn ceremony in Leicester, England, 530 years after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, where Richard was slain by the forces of Henry Tudor who succeeded him on the British throne as Henry VII. The Battle of Bosworth marked the end of the Wars of the Roses, a series of dynastic conquests for the throne of England between the House of Lancaster, led by Henry Tudor, and the House of York, led by Richard III.

Richard III ascended to the British throne upon the death of his brother, King Edward IV, in April 1483. Richard, however, was not first in line to the throne. Edward IV’s sons, Edward and Richard, were in the direct line of succession. On his deathbed Edward IV named his brother Richard Lord Protector of the Realm until his son and heir Edward, only twelve years old, reached adulthood. After Edward IV’s death Richard imprisoned his nephews Edward and Richard in the Tower of London, presumably under protection from the influence of Edward’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family until Edward’s coronation. Richard subsequently had his nephews declared illegitimate and took the throne in June 1483. The two princes were never seen alive again after Richard’s coronation.

Two years later, on August 22, 1485, Richard met the forces of Henry Tudor at Bosworth. Richard’s forces outnumbered those of Henry Tudor but at the last moment Lord Thomas Stanley, the third husband of Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort, changed sides and fought for his stepson. Richard was surrounded by Henry’s forces and was brutally cut down. His body was stripped of his armor and he received a hasty burial at Greyfriars Chapel in Leicester. His burial spot was thought lost until 2012, when a skeleton was discovered in an excavation of a parking lot in Leicester. The skeleton was analyzed and discovered to bear wounds similar to those of Richard III at Bosworth. In 2013 analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the skeleton and from a living descendant of Richard III’s sister Anne of York proved that the skeleton was indeed Richard III.

Richard III has a dark and dubious legacy in history. His greatest crime may have been the murder of his nephews in order to ascend the throne of England. There is no concrete evidence to the fate of the two princes; it is not certain that the boys were murdered, and it is not clear who may have murdered them. Much of Richard’s negative legacy was written during the reign of his successor Henry Tudor. Since 1924 the Richard III Society has been reviewing historical documents to uncover the truth about Richard and to restore his legacy in history.

For more information about Richard III, the archeological excavation, and the burial proceedings this week, please visit http://kingrichardinleicester.com. For additional information about the research that led to the discovery of Richard III’s remains, please read The King's Grave: The Discovery of Richard III's Lost Burial Place and the Clues It Holds, by Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. For information about the Richard III society please visit http://www.richardIII.net.

I have always been fascinated by the dynastic clashes over the battles for the throne, and particularly so for the period known as the Wars of the Roses. There is a personal element involved for me, as I may be a lineal descendant of Queen Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV, through her first husband Sir John Grey. Elizabeth Woodville may have been the 4th great-grandmother of my ancestor Anne Dudley Bradstreet through her only surviving son, Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset. In the 1990's genealogist Marshall Kirk constructed an indirect proof to determine the likely descent of Governor Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts from the Sutton-Dudley baronial lines. Gary Boyd Roberts of the New England Historic Genealogical Society included Marshall's theory in his study of royal descents of early American settlers, The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colonies of the United States. Although not proven with direct evidence Marshall's theory seems plausible. To view Anne Dudley Bradstreet's proposed descent from Elizabeth Woodville please click here.

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