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Richard III’s crown ready for reburial of the Plantagenet ‘King in the Car Park'

England’s King Richard III, whose remains were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester 527 years after his death in battle, has a new crown more befitting his royal status.

Leicester Cathedral has a sense of humor about the cost of interring a monarch.
Betsa Marsh
Richard III may be reburied in St. Martin's, the Leicester Cathedral. This portrait of Richard III was discovered in the safe of the Cathedral.
Betsa Marsh

The crown was on display May 7 for the first time, in Tewkesbury Cathedral. The "Armour at the Abbey" event was part of the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, marking the 543rd anniversary of the Battle of Tewkesbury.

“There was great interest in the crown,” spokeswoman Amanda Thomas told the Gloucestershire Echo. “Right from the beginning, it was manic.”

The gold-plated metal crown contains sapphires, garnets, and pearls. It was funded by historian Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, who worked with Philippa Langley to identify distant relatives of the Plantagenet monarch. The relatives’ DNA led to Richard III’s identification.

On a much more personal level, Ashdown-Hill also carried the king’s bones out of the parking lot for their scientific examination, and felt close to the king.

"I was very impressed when I saw [the crown] completed,” Ashdown-Hill, a member of the Richard III Society, told the Leicester Mercury. “It does look beautiful. I would like to think that Richard III would be very proud of his new crown.”

A crown more than a year in the making

Medieval jewelry expert George Easton made the crown, based on head measurements taken from the king's remains. It took 15 months.

Philippa Langley, leader of the Looking for Richard team, praised the work. "This magnificent crown will honor England's last warrior king by giving him what he didn't receive in 1485."

The crown will go onto the coffin of Richard III when he is re-buried, possibly in Leicester Cathedral. A legal challenge to the University of Leicester’s exhumation license, which stipulated reburial in St. Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester, has been led by The Plantagenet Alliance. The Alliance, a group of 15 collateral descendants of the king, believes they should be consulted about the future of the remains.

Ashdown-Hill does not comment on the eventual resting place for Richard III. He focused on honoring the monarch with a royal-style diadem, replacing the crown he lost in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

“In the Middle Ages, the norm at a royal funeral was for an effigy of the dead person to be placed upon the coffin,” Ashdown-Hill writes on his website. “That effigy would have been royally robed – and, of course, crowned. But the modern practice is simpler. For the last few centuries the norm, throughout Europe, has just been for a royal crown, placed on a cushion, to be borne upon the coffin of a sovereign during the lying in state and the burial rites. In the UK, we last witnessed this practice in 2002 at the funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Crowns are displayed, not buried now

“In Britain, the norm on such occasions, nowadays, is to use a crown from the royal regalia (‘crown jewels’)," Ashdown-Hill writes. "Thus, at the Queen Mother’s funeral the crown on her coffin was the same one with which she had been crowned queen consort at Westminster Abbey in 1937.

“For the reburial of Richard III, it would be difficult to use a crown from the royal regalia for two reasons. First, the arrangements for the reburial of Richard III don’t, at present, seem likely to be in the hands of the Royal Household. Second, every crown in the Royal Regalia today dates from a period long after the reign of Richard III."

Carrying royal bones in a box

The idea for a funeral crown for Richard III came to Ashdown-Hill "in September 2012, while I was carrying the box containing his bones from the Greyfriars site to the vehicle which was to take the bones away for scientific examination. And I offered to pay for the crown myself, because, having carried him, I can’t help feeling close to Richard III.

“I chose an open crown, like the one Richard III wore around his helmet on the last day of his life."

White roses for the Plantagenets

The gold-plated crown has enameled white roses, garnets, sapphires and pearls. “The idea of putting white roses on the crown was derived from the surviving crown of Richard’s sister, Margaret Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret’s is a small, very feminine crown, and it’s preserved in the treasury of Aachen Cathedral, because Margaret herself presented it to the image of the Blessed Virgin there.

Ashdown-Hill suggests that the crown should lie above Richard III's remains while he is awaiting reburial, then upon his coffin during his reburial service.

“In the Middle Ages, funeral crowns were sometimes buried with their kings or queens, but the more recent practice has been not to bury the funeral crown but to display it near the tomb.

A possible 'Crown Tour' around Britain

“Also, after his reburial there may be a period of time while the tomb itself needs to be completed, and a secure display place for the crown prepared. During that time I should like the crown to be displayed briefly in Colchester Castle Museum. If there are other places in the country where people would like to see it, I'd also be happy to consider a short 'crown tour' before the crown is finally placed near Richard III's tomb.”

When you go

Leicester is an East Midlands city 70 rail minutes north of London. BritRail, Visit Britain. You can “like” Richard III on his Facebook page.

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