Richard III reburial – 1: Who killed the car-park king?

The last king of the House of York should never have lost the Battle of Bosworth. In a radical new take, historian Chris Skidmore examines what went wrong on the battlefield.

Benedict Cumberbatch, recently revealed to be Richard III’s third cousin 16 times removed, to read poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy

Benedict Cumberbatch is to read a poem at the reburial service ofRichard III, his distant cousin.

The actor, who is playing the king in a forthcoming BBC production, will read a newly-commissioned poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate.

The poem, called Richard, is “a meditation on the impact of his finding and the legacy of his story”.

Cumberbatch is Richard’s third cousin 16 times removed, according to a genealogist at the University of Leicester. Prof Kevin Schurer traced the line of descent from Edward III, Richard III’s great-great-grandfather, to the Oscar-nominated actor.

Richard’s remains were discovered buried beneath a council car park in Leicester in 2012. The last English king to die in battle, he was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485.

His reburial ceremony will take place at Leicester Cathedral on Thursday, led by Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. Tickets for the service were distributed via an online ballot.

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Thousands of people have filed past the king’s casket, which is on display inside the cathedral. Some queued for hours.

Duffy said it was “a privilege” to write for the occasion. Her 14-line poem will include the phrase “grant me the carving of my name” in reference to Richard’s final resting place.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Channel 4 from 10am.King_Richard_portr_3040958c

Richard III’s body was discovered among the dead strewn across the battlefield, “despoiled to the skin” and “all besprung with mire and filth”. It was hard to believe that this naked and bloodied corpse had once belonged to a king. Still Richard III’s body had one final journey to make. After “many other insults were heaped upon it”, one chronicler reported how “not very humanely, a halter was thrown round the neck, and it was carried to Leicester”. With “nought being left about him, so much as would cover his privy member”, the last Plantagenet king was trussed up on the back of a horse, “as a hog or another vile beast” to be brought into the town “for all men to wonder upon, and there lastly irreverently buried”.

The new king – Henry Tudor, now crowned Henry VII – had good reason to put Richard’s body on display. Few could believe that Richard was dead, much less that a Welsh rebel who had landed on the tip of Wales two weeks earlier, leading an army of a few thousand men, mostly French mercenaries, had defeated a reigning king. Only hours earlier, Richard had led his army of 15,000 men, the largest army ever assembled “on one side” that England had ever witnessed, into battle against a rebel army barely one third its size. Bosworth, quite simply, was a battle that Richard should never have lost. Why did it go so badly wrong?

As soon as Richard discovered news of Henry Tudor’s arrival in Wales on August 7, he was overjoyed, claiming that the forthcoming battle would prove his right to rule. Still aged just 32, Richard had already carved out a career as a highly successful military general. In fact, he had never lost a battle, leading the vanguards of his brother Edward IV’s armies at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, while he had spent the early 1480s waging war against the Scots— winning back Berwick for the English in 1482. In comparison, Henry Tudor, had spent his youth in exile, mostly imprisoned for his own safety, with no military training to his name. Tudor had attempted to land in England two years previously, during a rebellion that Richard had mercilessly crushed, forcing his retreat. Since then, Richard had begun the medieval equivalent of an arms race, preparing his defences and restocking his powerful arsenal of guns and canon in the Tower of London. It was hardly surprising that Richard decided to delay his departure from Nottingham to counter Tudor’s rapid march through Wales, in order to observe the feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15). Meanwhile, Tudor was allowed to advance faster than had been anticipated, past Shrewsbury and into England— a blow that forced Richard to realise that Tudor’s threat was very real.

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