Questions about …
The responses to these questions have been written by members of the Looking for Richard team. Further information can be found here.
- What was the objective of the Looking For Richard Project?
The objective and ethos of the Looking for Richard Project was to search for the remains of King Richard and, if found, to rebury his remains with the honour, dignity and respect he was denied in August 1485 after his death at the Battle of Bosworth.
The project was inspired by the conviction that the king's grave was not irretrievably lost.
- How did the search for the grave of King Richard III come about?
The search project began when screenwriter Philippa Langley visited the Social Services car park in Leicester in 2004, and again in 2005. This was the northern part of the known, extensive Greyfriars precinct where it was believed King Richard had been buried in the choir of the church. Langley was already researching the king for a screenplay, and her visits to the site now shifted her research focus from his life, to his death and burial.
- What were the initial main obstacles to finding and identifying King Richard?
After research in original and secondary sources, Langley identified three key obstacles to overcome:
- How could Richard be identified?
- Did he still lie where he was buried? The tradition was widely believed that Richard's body had been removed from the Greyfriars and thrown into the River Soar.
- Where was the location of the church within the Greyfriars precinct?
- How was obstacle one overcome?
In 2005 historian and genealogist Dr John Ashdown-Hill, announced he had traced an all female line collateral descendant of King Richard whose mitrochondrial DNA could be compared with any putative remains of the king for identification purposes and his research was published in The Ricardian in 2006. The descendant was the late Mrs Joy Ibsen who lived in Canada, and was a 16th generation descendant of the king’s elder sister Anne. Only two kinds of DNA are usable over a long historical time gap, mtDNA and the Y-chromosome. The first of these is transmitted only in an all-female line; the second, only in an all-male line. MtDNA is preferable, as the identification of a mother of a child is more easily established than the father.
- How was obstacle two overcome?
Ashdown-Hill had been commissioned by the BBC to research the story of Richard’s disinterment for some years and came to the conclusion the king was still buried where he was originally interred. He published his research in 2004 and published further evidence in his book The Last Days of Richard III (The History Press, 2010). Langley was also convinced by Audrey Strange’s article in The Ricardian that suggested that the body in the river story had been confused and conflated with that of the religious reformer, John Wycliffe. In 1428 his remains had been dug up in Lutterworth, a few miles from Leicester, burned and then thrown into the river Swift.
- How was obstacle three overcome?
Langley’s researches using primary and secondary sources, examination of later plans of Leicester and the results of an archaeological dig in the street of Grey Friars in 2007 had convinced her that the Franciscan Priory church, which would have occupied only a small area of the friary site, was located opposite St Martin’s church, now Leiceister Cathedral. This was in the northern end of the Social Services car park, the area she had originally visited in 2004 and 2005. The suggestion that the king’s burial site could be in one of the three car parks in this central location had been made as early as 1975 when Audrey Strange’s article ‘The Grey Friars, Leicester’ was published by the Society. When discussing the nearby County Council offices, Strange wrote: ‘Their private car parks cover the centre and under one of these are the foundations of the thirteenth century church, the dust and bones of the once powerful King and saintly friars.’ However, an omission in the footnoting meant that Langley couldn’t examine why Strange held this view so her research continued. Interestingly, the Society discovered only recently that Strange approached the city’s Museum Service as early as 1962 to request an excavation of the Grey Friars site.
When they eventually met in 2009, Ashdown-Hill agreed with Langley’s view and in 2011 Ashdown-Hill’s further researches convinced him that the king’s remains did indeed lie still in the choir of the church and that the church lay, not at the south of the precinct but at the north. This was adjacent to the main public thoroughfare, which was the common siting for friary churches and which provided public access.
- What initial efforts were made to mount the search?
In 2005 and aware of Ashdown-Hill's discovery of King Richard's mtDNA, Langley persuaded him to write to Time Team, Channel 4's archaeological show (see 9 below).
- With obstacles surmounted, what happened next?
Langley invited Ashdown-Hill to Edinburgh in 2009 to address the Scottish Branch and they discovered they had, by different routes, come to the same conclusion about the possible whereabouts of the church of the Greyfriars being in the Social Services car park. Langley now felt she had sufficient evidence to pursue an archaeological search, provided she could secure permission to dig from the landowner, commission an archaeological contractor, and raise funding and public interest.
- Did Langley consider using television?
Yes. Following Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of King Richard’s mtDNA, she persuaded him to approach Time Team, Channel 4’s archaeological show. They said they were interested in the search but the Social Services car park was too big an area for their three-day dig format. Langley then secured the rights to Ashdown-Hill’s book, The Last Days of Richard III (July 2010) in order to propose a three part TV documentary to Channel 4: Looking for Richard: In Search of a King. Meanwhile on Langley’s request, a second approach to Time Team was made in February 2009 by Dr David Johnson, another member of her Looking for Richard team, but to no avail. Langley then approached the award-winning Darlow Smithson Productions who had just made WW1: Finding the Lost Battalions. Simon Young, the producer on the show and then Acting Head of Development, is an archaeologist.
- When did Leicester City Council get involved?
Langley approached Leicester City Council about the Looking For Richard Project in August 2010 and the Council confirmed their interest the following month. However, in the worst recession since WW2, they could not provide any finance. It was up to Langley to secure the funding which included the commissioning of a firm of archaeological contractors.
- How did the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) get involved?
There are several contractors throughout the country offering archaeological consultancy and services. Langley investigated several teams and it soon became clear that local knowledge was key. The City Council recommended their local service, ULAS, an independent archaeological contracting business which works with the University and its co-director Richard Buckley. Buckley, although sceptical (archaeologists do not normally search for specific artefacts or named individuals), possessed extensive local knowledge after several years of archaeological research in the city including the Highcross dig.
- What did ULAS expect to find?
Buckley has an interest in medieval Leicester and agreed that the car park areas could contain some of the Greyfriars buildings. He kept an open mind about whether the church itself might be located within the proposed excavation. ULAS had excavated the Austin Friars in Leicester where the church was situated to the south of the cloisters. If the Greyfriars precinct replicated this layout, as Buckley might have expected (see his reconstruction, published in 2011 in Visions of Ancient Leicester), the church could not be excavated because it would lie underneath later buildings. But the site which Philippa and her Looking For Richard Project wanted to excavate lay in the open area of tarmac to the north which had never been built on.
- When did the Richard III Society get involved?
Members of the Society were involved from the start. Although it was not a Society project per se, the Looking For Richard team was led by Society member Langley, and comprised Ashdown-Hill, Dr David and Wendy Johnson, Annette Carson, Dr Raymond Bord and was joined by Society chairman Dr Phil Stone. In 2011 Langley successfully applied to the Society for a bursary towards payment of £1,140 in order for her to commission a desk-based assessment by ULAS, a necessary initial process before the archaeological work could commence.
- What research had been done by the Richard III Society?
From its earliest days the Society has encouraged and led original research, and its publications have included uniquely valuable articles on Richard's burial by members using primary sources. Reference has already been made to the work of Audrey Strange in The Ricardian and in the same issue, archivist and historian Rhoda Edwards published her article: 'King Richard's Tomb at Leicester'. In this article she brought to light the available evidence proving that King Richard was indeed given a memorial tomb. Other articles included those by historians Peter Hammond and John Ashdown-Hill, and archaeologist Carol Simmonds.
The historian, David Baldwin also published an article in 1986 in Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society in which he concluded the grave was most likely 'beneath the northern (St. Martins) end of Grey Friars Street, or the buildings that face it on either side'. This placed the Greyfriars Church under a bank building and road.
- Who did the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey?
This was the final research undertaken by Langley for the Looking For Richard Project and was commissioned by her in August 2011. Stratascan was retained to survey the Social Services and New Street car parks and the playground area of the former Grammar School. These were the open (tarmacked) spaces situated directly opposite medieval St. Martin's Church (Leicester Cathedral) where Langley and Ashdown-Hill's research indicated the Franciscan friary church might be located.
- Why was the GPR Survey undertaken, and who funded it?
The GPR survey was undertaken in an attempt to locate any remaining walls of the friary church and its claustral buildings beneath the ground. It was hoped that this would help inform the later digging work. Langley obtained the funding for this research from members of the Richard III Society and private investors. The survey cost £5,043.
- What did the GPR survey discover?
A layer of apparent made-ground beneath the surface affected the results. No walls of the friary church and claustral buildings were located. The survey showed some areas of rubble and modern services, such as sewage and gas pipes. After Langley contacted the GPR team they confirmed that a possible grave site might be located in the former school playground (at the dig this was discovered to be a sarcophagus burial).
- How was the dig funded?
The principal funding for the original three-week project came from the Richard III Society and its members including a £5,000 contribution from its chairman. The Society’s contribution represented nearly 53% of the original project’s total funding. Leicester City Council also put together a £5,000 contingency budget, in case it was required.
The preliminary research and three-week project which found King Richard cost £32,867.
- Richard III Society, members and other Ricardians £17,367 [52.84%]
- University of Leicester £10,000 [30.43%]
- Leicestershire Promotions £5,000 [15.21%]
- Leicester Adult Schools £500 [1.52%]
The remaining funding of £716 from the International Appeal (see below) was paid to ULAS by Langley at the end of the dig for costs including those associated with the recovery of the king's remains after she had instructed exhumation.
As detailed earlier (see 16 above), the GPR survey cost £5,043. Dr Ashdown-Hill's research work to uncover the genetic descendant of King Richard III and reveal the king's mtDNA sequence cost the historian about £3,000. And a bursary of £1,140 was awarded to Langley by the Richard III Society for the cost she incurred for the Archaeological desk-based assessment.
- Were there any last minute funding issues?
Yes. A major contributor pulled some funding just weeks before the dig was about to start and the project faced a shortfall of £10,000. Langley approached the Society who authorised her International Appeal to its members around the world. Langley’s Ricardian appeal saved the dig from imminent cancellation.
- How was the appeal organised and who responded?
Looking For Richard Project member and Ricardian biographer, Annette Carson, designed the leaflet for the appeal and Langley e-mailed Society members and Ricardians world-wide. The response was immediate and over-whelming. £13,000 was pledged from America and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Brazil and from individual members and branches worldwide and throughout the UK. Members from other Ricardian organisations also gave to the appeal including The Society of Friends of Richard III in York and some members of the Richard III Foundation Inc in the USA.
- Who funded the scientific research to identify King Richard?
Following discovery, the University of Leicester funded this research which has cost £94,115.
- Who obtained permission to dig the Social Services and former Grammar School car park sites?
Langley was the named client in the commissioning of the archaeological dig and therefore prepared and received permission to dig the car park from the landowner Leicester City Council. She also obtained permission from the adjacent Grammar School's then owners, Davis Development Ltd.
- What was the plan for the archaeological dig?
There was only enough time and funding for three trial trenches. Richard Buckley explained he would lay these out in a north-south direction in order to intersect any potential walls of the church which would run in an east-west direction.
- Where was Richard III found?
The king was discovered in the northern end of the Social Services car park in the second parking bay, where Langley and Ashdown-Hill's research concluded the choir of the church would be.
- When were Richard III's remains found?
The lower leg bones were uncovered on the first day of the dig – 25 August 2012. This was also the anniversary of Richard's burial in the Greyfriars in 1485.
- Why did the exhumation take place several days later?
A licence is needed to exhume human remains, and since it was only day one of the dig, there was no indication of the antiquity of this discovery, whether it was a burial and if the remains were located in the friary church. Therefore, the remains were carefully covered and protected while the archaeologists proceeded with excavating the remainder of the site.
- Why did the archaeologists believe these remains were in the nave?
Research had been undertaken in Leicester by local historians David Baldwin (in 1986) and Ken Wright (in 2002) on the possible location of the lost Greyfriars church. They concluded the most likely site was under the road or buildings close to the street of Grey Friars in the north-east of the Greyfriars precinct. Their conclusions led the archaeologists to deduce that the remains found on 25 August were in the nave. Believing the potential location of the choir to be farther east, the archaeological team's opinion was that if remains were to be exhumed, they should be those found in the eastern-most trench — trench three in the Grammar School car park.
- Who wanted exhumation of the remains in Trench One?
This was Langley, as the originator of the project, commissioner of the work and its funding, and named client of ULAS and the City Council. When the remains were uncovered the archaeological team believed they lay in the nave of the church, not in the choir where Richard III had been buried, so they thought they were most likely those of a friar. Appropriately enough, the exhumation was funded using a small surplus from Langley’s last minute International Appeal to Ricardians which had recently saved the dig.
- How was King Richard identified?
The skeleton was subjected to various scientific examinations including carbon dating and forensic analysis using micro-CT. It was however, the osteology work of Dr Jo Appleby, who was aided by Robert Woosnam-Savage, an expert in European edged weapons from the Royal Armouries in Leeds, that led to the identification of the skeletal remains as a male of the right age with scoliosis and with battle trauma. The final, and undoubtedly the most compelling evidence was the matching of the king's mtDNA with the mtDNA sequence published by John Ashdown-Hill in 2005.
- How was the DNA identification achieved?
This was led by Dr Turi King at the University of Leicester. She brought in two leading Universities specialising in ancient DNA identification: the University of York and the University of Toulouse in southern France. In her laboratories in Leicester, King retrieved ancient DNA from the teeth of the remains and also isolated the mtDNA taken from Richard's living relative, Michael Ibsen who was now living in England and the son of Joy Ibsen, who had been identified by Ashdown-Hill's research.
- What ultimately was Langley's biggest obstacle?
Undoubtedly the river Soar story. As an indication of the power of the story, the application for the exhumation licence, written by Buckley three days before exhumation, stated that Richard's remains 'may subsequently have been exhumed and thrown into the nearby River Soar after the Dissolution in 1538'.
- Was King Richard found under the letter 'R'?
He was found beside it, in the adjacent parking bay.