March 26, 2015 / 12:12 AM / 3 years ago

England's Richard III, the 'villainous' king, gets ceremonial reburial

LONDON (Reuters) - Richard III, the last English king to die in battle and the country’s most maligned monarch, will be re-buried on Thursday three years after his remains were found under a car park.

A crown sits on the coffin of King Richard III as it stands in Leicester Cathedral, central England, March 22, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Staples

Depicted by Shakespeare as a sadistic, crafty hunchback, Richard will be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral in central England some 530 years after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field on Aug. 22, 1485.

Following the battle, his naked body was thrown on the back of a horse, taken to Leicester and buried in a humble grave, without the dignity usually bestowed on a king.

Despite reigning just 777 days, he still fascinates not just historians but ordinary people across the world, some of whom have traveled to Leicester to witness the ceremony.

“He seems a hero to some and a villain to others, and the few short years of his reign held promise of a time of peace and good government that was not to be,” wrote David Monteith, the Dean of Leicester, in a foreword to Thursday’s order of service.

The ceremony will feature a message from Queen Elizabeth, who will be represented by minor members of the royal family.

Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem entitled “Richard”, which will be read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who himself has been identified as a second cousin, 16 times removed of the dead king.

Members of the public queue to view the coffin of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral, central England, March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The last Plantagenet king, Richard’s death marked the end of the Wars of the Roses, a bloody civil war between the rival dynasties of the House of York and Lancaster.

While grand sepulchers house the remains of most English monarchs at Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle, his conqueror in battle Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, paid just 10 pounds for a memorial to his slain foe.

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Local legend even had it that his body was dug up and thrown in a nearby river, with his casket used as a horse trough. But after years of research by screenwriter Philippa Langley, his remains were finally found in 2012 beneath a municipal car park.

Some 35,000 people lined the streets of Leicester on Sunday when his coffin, made by a descendant whose DNA helped identify the body, was brought on a horse-drawn hearse to the cathedral.

Quite why Richard generates such passion stems partly from Shakespeare’s depiction of him as a deformed tyrant responsible for one of the most notorious crimes in English history -- the murder of his young nephews, “the Princes in the Tower”.

Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III society which campaigns to rebut what it believes are Tudor propaganda lies, said he would now get the dignified send-off he deserved.

“At last he’s been treated as he should have been 500-plus years ago,” he told Reuters.

Editing by Crispian Balmer

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