Map Date: 1887
Greyfriars was a Franciscan monastic community (called Grey Friars from the colour of their garments), established on the west side of Leicester from about 1255, and demolished at its dissolution in the late 1530s. Although a small monastery, its Church acquired national significance when Richard III was buried there following his death at Bosworth Field.
Richard III (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485) was King of England for two years, from 1483 until his death in 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. His defeat at Bosworth Field, the decisive battle of the Wars of the Roses, is sometimes regarded as the end of the Middle Ages in England.
In August 1485, a rebellion led by Henry Tudor landed in Pembrokeshire, with a small contingent of French troops, and marched through Wales recruiting foot soldiers and skilled archers on his way towards London.
Richard mustered his troops and intercepted Henry’s army south of Market Bosworth. The King divided his army, which outnumbered Henry’s, into three groups. One was assigned to the Duke of Norfolk and another to the Earl of Northumberland. Henry kept most of his force together under the command of the experienced Earl of Oxford. Richard’s vanguard, commanded by Norfolk, attacked but struggled against Oxford’s men. Northumberland took no action when signalled to assist his king, so Richard gambled everything on a charge across the battlefield to kill Henry and end the fight. Seeing the king’s knights separated from his army, Lord Stanley, and Sir William Stanley, who had brought a force to the battlefield, but held back while they decided which side it would be more advantageous to support, led their men to Henry’s aid, surrounding and killing Richard. Richard was the last English king to die in battle.
Following his death at Bosworth Field, Richard III’s body was thrown across a horse and carried to Leicester where, after a period of public display, it was buried inside Greyfriars Church. Ten years later, Henry VII paid for a tomb to be built. The tomb was presumed to have been demolished along with the Church following its dissolution after 1536.
Sir Robert Catlyn acquired the site following its dissolution by Henry VIII and sold it to Robert Herrick, who built a mansion with extensive gardens over the east end of the Friary grounds. These gardens were visited by Christopher Wren Sr. in 1611, who recorded being shown a handsome stone pillar with an inscription, “Here lies the body of Richard III, some time King of England”. Any remains of such a pillar having long since disappeared with the subsequent redevelopment of the land.
However, the Archaeology service of the University of Leicester, along with the Richard III Society and Leicester City Council, initiated an archaeological study resulting in three trenches being dug across the parking area behind the buildings on Greyfriars. These excavations revealed walls of the cloisters and the Church, enabling a possible layout for the monastic buildings to be drawn. Also found was the complete skeleton of a male showing severe scoliosis and major head wounds. On 4 February 2013 it was confirmed that the DNA matched, that the radiocarbon agreed, and that the characteristics of the bones and the nature of the head wounds were all entirely consistent with it being the remains of Richard III.