Archaeologists in the United Kingdom have made an important step in finding the lost grave of King Richard III, who ruled for just two years and died at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Reviled for centuries for allegedly murdering his two half-brothers, he is best known for the eponymous play by William Shakespeare. The archaeologists have discovered the lost garden of Robert Herrick – where, historically, it is recorded there was a memorial to the fallen monarch. The 'time tomb team' has discovered paving stones which they believe belong to hidden garden. Lead archaeologist Richard Buckley of Leicester Archaeological Services, said "The discoveries so far leave us in no doubt that we are on the site of Leicester's Franciscan Friary, meaning we have crossed the first significant hurdle of the investigation.
Following his disastrous defeat and death in battle, the king’s body was stripped and despoiled, then conveyed to Leicester where it was buried at the church of a Franciscan friary, which was known as Grey Friars. With the passage of time, Grey Friars became lost. In England, the members of the Franciscan order where known as grey friars because of the color of their simple ankle-length garments, while the Augustinians where likewise known as Black Friars for their habits.
The death of Richard meant the end of the House of York and the Plantagenet dynasty, while historians contend that it signaled the end of the medieval period in Britain.
The University of Leicester is leading the search for the place where the king is buried, in association with Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society. The project began in August, involving the excavation of two test trenches at a public park, while yet another trench was dug during the first week of September. It was then that archaeologists said that they had uncovered the Grey Friars church, as well as the adjacent garden. Said Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, "This is an astonishing discovery and a huge step forward in the search for King Richard's grave. Herrick is incredibly important in the story of Richard's grave, and in potentially helping us get that little bit closer to locating it."
It was Alderman Robert Herrick, a mayor of Leicester in the early 1600s, who bought the land of the Grey Friars and built a large mansion house with a garden on the site. In 1612, Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, visited Herrick and recorded having seen a beautiful three foot stone pillar in Herrick's garden. The words inscribed on the pillar were, 'Here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England.' This is the last known record of the site of King Richard's grave. Historical records show that Richard was buried in the choir of the Church of Grey Friars.
Herrick's descendants sold the mansion house and garden in 1711. Having had several owners, the mansion house was demolished during the 1870s and the municipal buildings were built on the site. Herrick's garden, however, appears to have remained a garden, or wasteland, until the 1930s - 40s when it was covered with asphalt and converted into a parking lot.
Langley of the Richard III Society added, "In locating what looks like one of the garden's pathways and, potentially, its central area which could have once held the three foot stone pillar marking the location of King Richard's grave, we could be that bit closer to finding the resting place of Britain's last warrior king."
Said archaeologist Buckley, the area of paving was found at its southern end, composed of re-used medieval tiles laid in a haphazard pattern. "The tiles were also extremely worn and of many different sizes. Although the date at which the paving was laid has yet to be confirmed, we suspect that it relates to the period of Herrick's mansion. Interestingly, the 18th century map of Leicester shows a formal garden with a series of paths leading to a central point.” Adding to evidence that the last resting place of the controversial king may soon be uncovered, Buckley said "The paving we have found may relate to this garden, but it lies outside the church to the south. Inside the church in this third trench, further investigation has revealed some large fragments of window tracery which could well relate to the east window, behind the high altar. If so, this may show that we are in the extreme east end of the building –near the choir where Richard III is said to have been buried.”
The excavation at Leicester is being filmed, while there are plans for a documentary to be shown on British television Channel 4.