Background to the project

In 1986, University of Leicester tutor David Baldwin presented this paper (PDF, 546 KB) to Leicester Archaeological and Historical Society, arguing that King Richard III probably still lay under the Greyfriars area of the city of Leicester (provided that it had not been destroyed during any of the 19th/20th building work in that space) and had not been, as local legend had it, thrown into the Soar by an “angry mob”.

Newspaper article, King's body lying under city centre

Daily Telegraph, 4 October 1993

For the next 20 years, no serious consideration was given to an exhumation, not least due to the expense and logistical issues of carrying out such a project. Indeed some argued Richard’s remains lay, not at Greyfriars, but at the Newarke in Leicester (1).

This view was also taken by John Ashdown-Hill, in his 2010 book The Last Days of Richard III. John also provided a possible further strand of evidence which he had identified in 2004, and which could potentially be used to identify Richard III should any putative remains be found: he had traced the last 5 generations of the 16 generation female line of descent from Richard’s older sister, Anne of York, to the then living, Joyce Ibsen. Mitochondrial DNA from this female-line descendant could potentially be used as a reference against that of any remains found. If this lineage could be fully documented with corroborating evidence and if it were possible to retrieve any DNA from any skeletal remains, this could form part of a much wider analysis including archaeological, osteological, radiocarbon, stable-isotope and genealogical evidence.

In March 2011, Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society approached University of Leicester Archaeological Services (a commercial service that is part of the University) about employing ULAS to conduct an archaeological exploration of the Greyfriars site (and possibly locate Richard’s grave). However, at this stage, no funds had been raised to pay for the work which was estimated to cost about £35,000. Whilst the chances of finding Richard were statistically remote, the University saw great merit in discovering more about this important lost friary and decided in 2012 to make a financial contribution to the costs of the project. Funding also came from Leicester City Council, Leicestershire Adult Schools and Leicester Shire Promotions. This still left a shortfall, but an appeal to the Richard III Society (masterminded by Philippa Langley) secured the balance of the funds. Hence the funding organisations worked together in partnership to search for the lost church of the Greyfriars and within it, hopefully, King Richard III. The funding of the project is shown here: The full statement of costs.

1. A. Sutton & L. Viseer-Fuchs, ‘The Making of a Minor London Chronicle in the Household of Sir Thomas Frowyk (died 1485)’, The Ricardian, vol. X (1994), pp. 86-103 (pp. 97-98) argued strongly that Richard was buried at the Newark, based on contemporary evidence from Frowyck’s Chronicle

Richard III - by David Baldwin

The Last Days of Richard III - by John Ashdown-Hill

Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley of University of Leicester Archaeological Services explains the background to the Greyfriars dig.

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