January 15th, 2014

Richard III Even More Mysterious Than We Thought!

In our Blog of February 26, 2013, we revealed how the remains of warrior King Richard III of England were uncovered after years of speculation about where he was buried. As it turns out, there is even more mystery attached to Richard’s burial than initially believed. As it turns out, a second coffin has been discovered in his grave. The strange part is that the second coffin, made of lead, was found inside that of Richard III himself!

The second coffin is believed to have been sealed sometime between the 13th and 14th centuries, more than one hundred years before King Richard was buried there in 1485. Archaeologists who are excavating the site think the coffin may belong to a high ranking medieval knight, or one of the founders of the friary where Richard is buried. A statement issued by the University of Leicester states “The inner coffin is likely to contain a high-status burial — though we don’t currently know who it contains.”

The second coffin is quite large, measuring &ft. long and 2 feet wide. Because it is made of lead, it took a team of eight to lift the lid off the coffin. The coffin itself has been moved to the university of Leicester research center where it will be examined by a team of researchers to determine the safest way to open it without disturbing the remains. The only glimpse they have had of what is inside the coffin so far has been via a hole in the bottom of the coffin where they have been able to glimpse the feet of the skeleton.

The archaeologists have two candidates as to whom the remains may belong to. One is Peter Swynsfeld, the other William of Nottingham, both founders of the Grey Friar’s friary, and who died within 60 years of each other, in 1272 and 1330 respectively. Historical researchers are in possession of records that suggest a knight who was “sometime mayor of Leicester” may have been buried there. It is possible that he is the knight Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, who died in the 14th century sometime between 1356 and 1362. DNA testing will inevitably be put to the test again!

This is the first time that archaeologists have encountered a lead coffin, so it presents them with some unique challenges. “None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before,” said archaeologist Mathew Morris, director of the Grey Friars site, “We will now need to work out how to open it safely, as we don’t want to damage the contents when we are opening the lid.”

It is amazing how much the field of genealogy has contributed to the advancement of DNA testing, and how valuable that now is in learning about, not just our individual family histories, but that of the world as well!