King Richard relatives visit battlefield before reburial

25th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

King Richard III's closest living relatives set foot Wednesday on Bosworth Battlefield where the 15th-century English monarch was slain, feeling the historic clash come to life on the eve of his reburial.

In the spring sunshine, four relatives of the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty stood in the quiet, rolling Leicestershire fields, imagining the brutal moment that changed the course of English history.

All direct female line descendants of Richard's eldest sister Anne of York, they were given a tour of the battlefield by expert archaeologists, and shown artefacts that helped identify the site.

University genealogists linked the four relatives to the skeleton found beneath a car park in Leicester, central England three years ago, and their DNA tests confirmed the bones belonged to the last English king to die in battle.

Siblings Michael, Jeff and Leslie Ibsen from Canada -- nephews and nieces 16 times removed -- and Australian-born Wendy Duldig, a niece 18 times removed, were told how Richard's forces succumbed.

"Some 530 years ago, he was here and cut down, with chaos raging around. History is leaping up and coming alive," Michael Ibsen told AFP on Ambion Hill, overlooking the scene.

"It all becomes much more tangible," said the 58-year-old London-based carpenter, who, fittingly, built Richard's new oak coffin.

- 'Terrifying and chaotic' -

Richard ruled from 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in 1485.

It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses and Richard's defeat at age 32 saw the crown pass to the Tudors, with his victorious opponent ending the day as king Henry VII.

"You can allow the imagination to work and get a feel of what it was really like because the topography of the land is pretty much identical," said Richard's distant niece Duldig, a social policy researcher.

"It really does bring it to life," she said.

"It must have been terrifying and chaotic."

Richard Mackinder, the site's archaeology coordinator of 15 years, guided the relatives around the scene.

"We've found the battle site, but do we understand it fully yet? No," he said.

He said the discovery and reburial of Richard was "the end of a chapter, not the end of the book" on the events of 1485.

"We're not going to get that Eureka moment where it all falls into place," but, having now found the battle site and Richard's remains, "who knows what we'll find in the next few years?"

- Holding link to the past -

Perhaps the most prized artefact discovered in the fields was a silver-gilt badge of Richard's personal symbol, a white boar, something worn only by his closest knights.

"It's one thing to be at home reading about it, but to actually come and hold the boar badge, that was incredible," said Leslie Ibsen, 55.

"It's an experience that will be with me forever."

Turi King, a lecturer in genetics and archaeology at the University of Leicester, worked on tracing the relatives.

She told AFP there could be roughly between one and 17 million people alive descended from Richard's immediate family -- but the four people standing before her in a field were the only known living direct female line relatives of Richard.

King said her research shows there was a 96 percent chance that Richard had blue eyes and a 77 percent chance that he was born with blond hair.

At a party later in Leicester, the four closest relatives met for the first time with many other distant kin traced by the university, and descendants of key characters in the battle -- in some cases bringing branches of families together for the first time in 350 years.

Conrad Penny, from South Africa, is related to both Richard and Henry -- plus 11 other nobles who fought at Bosworth.

"I'm delighted to be here. This happens only once every 530 years," he said, adding as Duldig passed: "I think we might be related. Pleased to meet you."

Richard's remains will be reburied at Leicester Cathedral on Thursday in a service attended by royalty and presided over by England's most senior cleric, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Award-winning actor Benedict Cumberbatch, another distant relation of the king, will read out a poem as the monarch's coffin is laid in its final resting place.


© 2015 AFP

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