There are a couple of sayings here in Lancashire that mean something which happens very infrequently: ‘Once in a blue moon’ and ‘Once every Preston Guild’. This year is Guild year in Preston and the celebrations began on a night that coincided with a blue moon. “Expect the unexpected!” I posted on FaceBook. This morning I realised just how significant that day actually was, because it was on Friday 31st August 2012 that the University of Leicester applied to the Ministry of Justice under the 1857 Burials Act for permission to commence the exhumation of human remains found at the Grey Friars site in Leicester.
The remains are those of an adult male who appears to have been killed in battle. There is a barbed arrow embedded between two vertebrae in the upper back and the skull shows significant peri-mortem trauma inflicted by a bladed implement. The skeleton also shows signs of scoliosis, causing a curvature of the spine that may have resulted in the right shoulder being higher than the left, but the archaeologists point out that the man was not a hunchback and that there is no sign of a withered arm.
The results of DNA profiling will take some weeks, but it does seem that the remains are probably those of King Richard III who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August, 1485.
I hope that this discovery will lead to more interest in Richard and who he really was. There has been talk of finding justice for him by dispelling the Tudor myth of an evil hunchback and giving him the respectful burial that he deserves. And Richard was a man who strongly believed in justice. So strongly, that at only 17 years old he defied his older brother the king to help James and Robert Harrington defend Hornby Castle against Thomas Stanley. The Harrington’s father, Thomas, and elder brother, John, both died fighting for the Yorkist army at Wakefield in 1460. Because Thomas was killed first and John died from his wounds later the Harrington estates, which included the strategically placed Hornby Castle in north Lancashire passed from father to son and then to John’s heirs. John Harrington’s heirs were his two young daughters – Anne and Elizabeth – who were aged around four and five years old at this time. As they were not old enough to inherit they were taken into the care of the king, Edward IV, and their wardship was given to Sir Thomas Stanley who was quick to arrange marriages for them with one of his sons and a nephew. What this meant was that Hornby Castle now belonged to the Stanleys and the Harrington family were virtually dispossessed.
Richard believed that this was an unjustice. He believed that the Harringtons should have been allowed to keep Hornby. He petitioned his brother on their behalf and even when the matter was eventually settled in favour of Thomas Stanley he never forgot, and when he became king he was determined to return the castle to the Harringtons.
James and Robert Harrington fought with Richard at Bosworth. They probably saw him killed. You can read more about them here: http://elizabethashworth.com/2011/08/22/sir-james-harrington-and-the-battle-of-bosworth/
My next novel By Loyalty Bound, which will be published by Claymore Press in May 2013, will tell the story of the Harringtons relationship with Richard. It will explain the roots of the animosity between him and Thomas Stanley – and it will reveal the identity of Richard’s mysterious mistress and mother of his two children – Katherine and John.