Leicester car park where Richard III was buried given protected status

Heritage minister says protecting site as a scheduled monument will ensure its preservation for future generations

The scruffy council car park in Leicester that was revealed in 2012 to an astonished world as the site where Richard III was buried in 1485 is being given scheduled monument status by the government.

The listing is to protect “one of the most important sites in our national history”, the remains of the medieval friary where the battered, naked body of the last Plantagenet king was buried after he lost the Battle of Bosworth, his life and his crown to Henry Tudor.

Part of the site, including the grave, has been preserved within the new Richard III centre, converted from an old school whose playground helped preserve the archaeology. However, many traces of the lost Greyfriars church and the friary buildings are believed to lie under the car park.

The heritage minister, John Glenn, said: “The discovery of Richard III’s skeleton was an extraordinary archaeological find and an incredible moment in British history.

“By protecting this site as a scheduled monument, we are ensuring the remains of this once lost medieval friary buried under Leicester are preserved for future generations.”

The grave was found in August 2012 by the University of Leicester in an excavation prompted by Philippa Langley, a screenwriter and amateur historian, who was convinced Richard’s remains still lay under the car park. To the astonishment of many who had believed that the jibe of “Richard Crookback” was Tudor and Shakespearean propaganda, the spine was twisted like a shepherd’s crook.

Months of scientific tests preceded a press conference in February 2013, which was front page news and was relayed live around the world. The dating of the bones, the battlefield injuries including a gaping hole in the skull and the matching of DNA handed down from his mother through the unbroken female line with two living relatives established “beyond reasonable doubt” that the body really was Richard’s.

The city mayor, Peter Soulsby, said the listing would protect the site for future generations. “We’re very proud of Leicester’s rich history, which spans over 2,000 years. The discovery and identification of King Richard III’s remains was a remarkable achievement. These events marked an unforgettable time for our city.”

In March 2015, with the words “King Richard, may you rest in peace in Leicester”, Soulsby welcomed the coffined bones, carried on a horse-drawn hearse, back into the city. It was a key moment in a remarkable day, when a solemn cortege including knights on horseback accompanied the remains back to the battlefield and other sites associated with the king’s last day.

The face of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, at the Society of Antiquaries in London.
The face of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, at the Society of Antiquaries in London. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Soulsby was standing on Bow Bridge where, according to local legend, Richard knocked his heel against a stone as he rode out to his last battle on 22 August 1485. The legend says the same stone was struck by his bloodied head when he was carried back as “a miserable spectacle”, according to Thomas More, slung “like a hogge or a calfe, the head and armes hangyng on the one side of the horse and the legs on the other side”.

In the politically charged atmosphere of regime change, the clergy of Greyfriars accepted the responsibility of finding the final resting place for a toppled king. They buried Richard in a hastily dug grave without coffin or shroud, but in a position of honour near their high altar.

Over the centuries, the friary was demolished, apart from one small stretch of wall, and its exact site lost. Although the area was still known as Greyfriars, it was believed that all trace of the grave had been destroyed in later construction on the site: in fact, a crucial section had remained open ground and preserved the gardens of large houses and later a school yard.

The skeleton with the twisted spine no longer lies in the roughly dug hole, too small even for the king’s slight frame. It was reburied in March 2015 in a new tomb in Leicester Cathedral, just across the road from the site, in an extraordinary ceremony attended by representatives of royalty, descendants of Plantagenet and Tudor aristocracy, families whose ancestors fought at Bosworth, the distant cousins whose DNA helped identify the bones, the archaeologists who found him and the academics who worked for two years to identify him, and as many of the people of Leicester as could be crammed into the building.

The honour of listed status has been given by the government on the advice of Historic England, whose chief executive, Duncan Wilson, said the area to be scheduled had been carefully considered and would be managed through planning controls with Leicester city council.

The grave is displayed as it was found, protected by a stone and glass pavilion within the Richard III centre. The discovery has transformed the once shabby area around the cathedral, which now welcomes visitors from all over the world, but although newly erected signs explain its extraordinary significance to visitors, the car park remains as tatty as ever.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Richard III: this king should stay in Leicester | Editorial
Editorial: An expected tourist boom is at stake for the city that can call itself Richard III's resting place


14, Mar, 2014 @8:30 PM

Article image
Richard III: unveiling day arrives for skeleton that would be king

Leicester University prepares to show carpark remains to the world as scientists work round the clock to finish ID tests

Maev Kennedy

03, Feb, 2013 @2:57 PM

Article image
Skeleton found in car park is that of Richard III – as it happened

• Live updates as researchers reveal that remains are those of English king killed at Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485
Read a summary of what the academics discovered
• Read more: DNA confirms twisted bones belong to king

Paul Owen

04, Feb, 2013 @1:55 PM

Article image
King Henry I, like Richard III, could be buried in a car park, say archaeologists
After the 2015 reburial of King Richard III, experts are suggesting the remains of William the Conqueror’s son, who died in 1135, lie in Reading

Robert Booth

22, May, 2015 @5:52 PM

Article image
Richard III: king's face recreated from skull discovered under car park
Facial reconstruction using skeleton unearthed in Leicester shows what the last Plantagenet king may have looked like

Maev Kennedy

05, Feb, 2013 @2:31 PM

Article image
Richard III: the dead king who brought the world's gaze to a Leicester car park

Stories of 2013: The archaelogist who first spotted the last Plantagenet king's remains relives the busiest year of his life

Maev Kennedy

23, Dec, 2013 @5:18 PM

Article image
Son of York! Richard III relatives' descendants allowed to challenge Leicester burial

High court judge grants permission for claimants to fight for final resting place of king, but warns against 'unseemly' legal battle

Sam Jones and agency

16, Aug, 2013 @2:41 PM

Article image
Richard III's body becomes subject of rival claims from Leicester and York

Both cities start petitions as York council says king would have wanted to be buried in York Minster

Maev Kennedy

05, Feb, 2013 @6:35 PM

Article image
Is Richard III's Leicester the next tourist hotspot?

Apart from Greyfriars car park, final resting place of the last Plantagenet king of England, where else might holidaymakers visit in this East Midlands city?

Patrick Barkham

04, Feb, 2013 @1:43 PM

Article image
Richard III discovery shows scientists playing to the media gallery | Catherine Fletcher

Catherine Fletcher: Though Leicester University has managed how it presents its 'king in the car park' findings, this populism sets a worrying trend

Catherine Fletcher

04, Feb, 2013 @4:15 PM