IT WAS a moment that brought to a close one of the most remarkable chapters in British history.
Richard III was finally laid to rest yesterday, more than five centuries after his death which effectively ended the War of the Roses, and two-and-a-half years since his mortal remains were discovered under a council car park in Leicester.
In a moving service held 530 years after the last Yorkist king’s death at Bosworth Field, the monarch’s skeleton was re-interred in the cathedral in the East Midlands city, witnessed by descendants of the 15th century battle.
In front of a congregation 700 people, including actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Lindsay, who had both played the much-maligned king in Shakespeare, an Army guard of honour bore the king aloft to his final resting place.
There, in the ambulatory of the 800-year-old cathedral site, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the golden-coloured oak coffin was carefully lowered into place.
It marked the end of a remarkable journey which had seen the king lying in a forgotten and unremarkable grave under the council car park for more than 500 years.
In a foreword to the order of service, the Queen said that she recognised the “great national and international significance” of Richard’s reburial.
“Today, we recognise a king who lived through turbulent times and whose Christian faith sustained him in life and death,” she said.
She expressed her wish that Richard, who was slain aged just 32 in August 1485, would “now lie in peace in the city of Leicester in the heart of England”.
The final chapter of the Plantagenet king’s story unfolded in a solemn and reflective service, and the Countess of Wessex, attending alongside with the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, was among many wearing black.
It is a privilege to be involved, in a small way, in this unique eventCarol Ann Duffy
Watching the extraordinary events from the pews were other dignitaries including author Philippa Gregory, the writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, and broadcaster John Sergeant. Also among the congregation was Philippa Langley, who had campaigned for years to mount a dig in the spot where the old king was eventually discovered by University of Leicester archaeologists.
The coffin had lain in repose inside the cathedral since a procession on Monday, attended by 35,000 people, through Leicester and its surrounding countryside.
Now to be reburied, a seven-man guard of honour drawn from successor Army regiments of units which fought at Bosworth lifted the 242lbs coffin and unflinchingly bore their burden throughout the lengthy eulogy.
Professor Gordon Campbell of the University of Leicester spoke of Richard’s upbringing, his life, adding the “adverse judgement” levelled at the king, most notably over the fate of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower, had recently changed.
He said: “Richard III has the greatest following of all English monarchs, apart from our present Queen.”
The coffin was then borne to a plinth near the cathedral’s holiest place, the high altar, led by the Archbishop. In the final act of his journey, Richard’s coffin was lowered into the tomb of Swaledale Yorkshire stone and, as it was, soil from the places of his birth, his life and his death were scattered over.
“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” said the Archbishop.
Afterwards, Ms Langley said she was “exhausted” but the events of this week had been “a long time coming”.
“The history books will now need re-writing,” she said. “We now know where King Richard is buried.”
It started beneath a city car park
AN OFTEN bitterly fought saga escalated after the archaeological find of the century.
Since it was confirmed in February 2013 that a skeleton discovered under a council car park in Leicester six months earlier was indeed that of Richard III, speculation intensified as to where the king would ultimately be laid to rest.
A failed High Court bid was launched by distant relatives of Richard to have him buried in York Minster, while others claimed Westminster Abbey was a more fitting final resting place. In the end, Leicester was confirmed as the location where the remains would be re-interred.
The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Rev Tim Stevens, delivered his sermon at the city’s cathedral yesterday for the last Yorkist king who, he said, seemed to have “stepped from the pages of history into the fullest glare of the world’s attention”.
He claimed the world had been captivated by Richard’s story, sparked by the “astonishing discovery” of his remains in the ruins of Greyfriars church long lost under a council car park.
“Whether we are Ricardians or Shakespeareans, whether we see through the eyes of Olivier, McKellen or Cumberbatch, whether we recognise a warrior or a scholarly pious thinker, today we come to accord this King, this child of God, and these mortal remains, the dignity and honour denied them in death,” he added.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch – himself a distant cousin of Richard – read a specially-commissioned 14-line poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. “Grant me the carving of my name,” he read. “These relics, bless.”
Tracey Archer, 46, of Nottingham, was one of the lucky few to win a seat in the cathedral at an over-subscribed public ballot.
“When the coffin was moved for re-interment and the choir was singing, it sent a shiver through me,” she said. “It was momentous.”