The precise facts of Richard’s burial are obscure and contradictory. Quite simply, no documents exist that state where he was buried, where he now lies or even where his body was exposed prior to burial. However, it is possible to gather together what can be known and suggest a scenario.
There followed a dispute between the two contractors, who took the case to Chancery. In the Chancery record, the tomb was described as being built at the ‘Newark’, which is then crossed out and replaced with ‘friars’.
Known as the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of St Mary in the Newarke, it is this church in which Richard might originally have been buried. Given its Lancastrian heritage, it cannot be wondered if Henry VII had felt uncomfortable with the thought of a Yorkist king resting there. It is certainly possible that he remedied the situation by transferring Richard’s remains from the church to that of the Grey Friars priory. The documents commissioning the contractors support the suggestion that Richard had been moved, and subsequent chroniclers are unanimous in their assertion that he rested at the Grey Friars, or Franciscans. Richard, then, was buried in holy ground, and his soul would benefit from the prayers of the monks as they performed their rites and services.
William Hutton, travelling to Leicester in 1758 specifically to see the coffin, found that it had not withstood the ravages of time. The best intelligence that I could obtain was, that it was destroyed about the latter end of the reign of George the First, and some of the pieces placed as steps in a cellar at the same inn where it had served as a trough.
As we saw with Richard’s desire to transfer the remains of King Henry VI, it was expected of kings to treat their predecessor’s remains with honour, to ensure that they had a fitting burial and that they were laid to rest in an appropriate resting place. Henry Tudor was clearly incapable, or uninterested, in seeing that Richard’s body was treated with due dignity. For a long time he was also unable to provide Richard with anything like a proper tomb. If he could not bring himself to lay Richard to rest among the other kings of England, either at Westminster or with Edward IV at Windsor, then his son Henry VIII ought to have done so. Neither of them did. Indeed, upon the dissolution of the monasteries, ordered by Henry VIII, Richard’s mean memorial was desecrated just as his body had been at Bosworth.
It would be interesting, at this point, to see how Richard’s simple tomb compared with those of his predecessor and successor. The cost of Edward IV’s funeral was £1,496 17s 2d. The King lies beside his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Edward had rebuilt the chapel, which had been founded by Edward III, with the intention that it should be his resting place. However, the tomb was not completed upon his death, nor would it ever be. Work was continued under Richard III, who issued a warrant to ‘Geoffry Franke, receyvor of Middleham, to content the freres of Richmond with xii marks, vi s. viii d for the saying of 1000 masses for K. Edward IV.’ Work, however, ceased after Bosworth.
Edward’s will states that he had intended his tomb to be adorned with two effigies, one of which was to depict the king as an emaciated corpse - if his bloated body represented gluttony and lust in life, an emaciated one would represent repentance in death. Seats were to be provided for almsmen, who would pray for the soul of Edward. The chantry was to be enclosed within a superb iron grill, which can still be seen, complete with a wooden door furnished with a peep hole, a lock and a door handle ringed with a garter.
As to Richard's conqueror and successor, Henry VII lies in a gilded tomb adorned with the effigies of himself and his queen, Elizabeth of York. Angels and saints watch over him as he rests, his sins expiated by the dedication of the chapel to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the prayers of his faithful subjects and loyal servants.
Henry VII had originally intended his burial place to be St George’s Chapel, Windsor. This makes sense, since he would have been close to Henry VI, whose remains and relics had been translated there by King Richard III in 1484. Henry VII would have seen Henry VI as his immediate, legal successor in much the same way as Richard III came to see Richard II. However, Henry changed his mind about the location, if not his proximity to Henry VI. Probably as the result of persuasion by the abbots and monks of Westminster Abbey, he became convinced that Henry VI had selected the abbey as his favoured burial place. Between 1502 and his death in 1509 he began to spend enormous sums of money, a total of £14,860 13s 1d, on the creation of a shrine to the late king, beside whom Henry, his queen, his mother Margaret Beaufort and perhaps even his grandmother, Queen Katherine de Valois were to lie. That he had intended the shrine to become a Tudor mausoleum should perhaps be doubted, since Henry’s eldest son, Arthur, who died in 1502, was buried at Worcester.
Certainly, the chantry at York Minster was a very important undertaking and might be indicative of the king’s desire to be buried there. The possible presence of Prince Edward adds a dynastic dimension to the foundation. Against this, however, is the fact that Richard’s queen was not buried at York Minster, but at Westminster. Moreover, had the young prince been buried at York Minster, he lies in an unmarked grave, his presence remaining a secret that would have been difficult to preserve had a chantry been established on behalf of the new but ultimately short-lived Yorkist dynasty.
Copyright Josepha Josephine Wilkinson 2006, 2012. All rights reserved.