AS THE old king’s remains returned to the battlefield where he was killed, bright spring sunshine evoked the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York”.
In a colourful ceremony heavy with symbolism on top of Ambion Hill overlooking the site of the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire, thousands gathered to honour the dead king, some wearing period dress and battle armour.
Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, told the crowd to “remember a man of integrity, who cared for subjects and had their trust”.
He urged them to look anew at the king whose “achievements in his short reign have been overshadowed by historical myth and Shakespeare’s monster”.
Dr Stone added: “Let us remember King Richard III. The good king. The warrior king.”
After a moment of silence and reflection, a 21-gun salute thundered out bringing the smell of gunpowder to the field, as a banner bearing the old king’s white boar sigil hung from its flagstaff.
Earlier, Dr Stone said reports that the Queen has prepared a personal tribute to be read out at Thursday’s service of reinterment at Leicester Cathedral were to be welcomed.
As the last boom of the guns died away, the Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Richard III Society, lit the flame of an iron brazier.
The congregation listened as the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, said in prayer: “Grant King Richard a world of rest and peace, free from dust and ashes.”
He added: “We thank you now as we honour the memory of King Richard, the last Plantagenet king, as we entrust his mortal remains to you as they journey to their final resting place in the cathedral church of Leicester.”
Later, white roses were placed by the dignitaries around the sundial memorial at the top of Ambion Hill.
As Richard’s remains were carried away into the Leicestershire countryside by the cortege, the coffin’s journey was witnessed by passengers on a steam train, as its engine sat at a standstill.
Earlier many thousands had packed the narrow country lanes of Dadlington and Sutton Cheney, the village where Richard is said to have prayed before the fight which claimed his life, while there were similar scenes in nearby Market Bosworth.
Members of the Richard III Society, including Philippa Langley from Edinburgh – who campaigned for years to mount a dig for the king’s grave – attended a service outside the city campus’s Fielding Johnson building.
Afterwards, hundreds gathered along the university exit, some with flags depicting Richard’s royal standard.
Outside the city, the coffin was taken to farmland near Dadlington where a silver gilt white boar was recently unearthed.
The high-status item is thought likely to have belonged to someone close to the king and may have marked out where the thickest fighting took place.
Then a casket filled with soil from Fotheringhay, Middleham in Yorkshire, and Fenn Lane Farm, and blessed, all the while as the warm spring sunshine bathed a crowd of about 300.
The soil was to represent the king’s passage through life, as he was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, three years before the start of the Wars of the Roses, then squired at Middleham, and is believed to have fallen near where the farm buildings now stand. The king’s grave site was thought to be lost until archaeologists discovered his crook-backed skeleton in the remains of an old monastery beneath a Leicester City Council car park.
Ms Langley battled for years for a dig on the site, despite rumours Richard’s body had been dumped in the city river.
It was at Bosworth, where in August 1485 Richard fell at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 while fighting Lancastrian forces under the command of Henry Tudor – later Henry VII, bringing a decisive end to the Wars of the Roses. Contemporary accounts after the battle told of how Richard’s remains were buried “without pompe or solemne funeral” in the Greyfriars monastery.
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