Richard III Dig Site May Also Hold Beheaded Friars
July 10, 2013

Richard III Dig Site May Also Hold Beheaded Friars

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As work continues at the Grey Friars church dig site where University of Leicester archaeologists earlier discovered the remains of King Richard III, excavators are hoping to uncover a more gruesome burial.

A group of friars who were beheaded for treason by King Henry IV in 1402 may have been buried at the church site, some 80 years before Richard III was hastily buried with neither coffin nor shroud. While researchers were horrified by the way King Richard was buried, the find of three headless friars could top that discovery.

Archaeologists are currently on a month-long excavation of a 55x82-foot section of a Leicester car park that is believed to be the entire northeastern section of the Grey Friars church, including the choir area and the walking place around the main tower.


As the story goes, soon after Richard II died in 1400, a group of friars from Leicester began spreading rumors that the deposed king was in fact still alive and well and was planning a revolt to reclaim his throne from Henry IV.

During this time there was increasing unrest in the social structure throughout England, with many threats coming to Henry IV's reign from Robert III, King of Scots and Owen Glyn Dwr's insurrection in Wales. As the rumors began to spread, Henry IV's credibility was put into question. The Leicester friars were central to spreading the rumors -- particularly Roger Frisby, a prestigious theologian and Doctor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

According to historians, Frisby was the ringleader behind a network of Franciscan friars in Leicester, Aylesbury, Northampton and Nottingham, as well as other areas in the Midlands. These friars were quick to accept the myth and promote it throughout, proving to be a major annoyance for Henry IV.

Henry IV, ordering the arrest of those behind the rumors, put 14 of 30 people captured to death for the crime of treason -- including Frisby and his fellow friars Walter Walton and John Moody. The men were hanged then beheaded. Their heads were placed on display in Oxford and London Bridge.

Historical literature suggests the friars' decapitated bodies were collected by their brethren and returned home to Leicester, being buried at the Grey Friars church. However, some other chronicles suggest their bodies may have been buried at a Franciscan friary in London.

"Roger Frisby was a respected theologian -- and clearly a well-regarded Franciscan. People respected him for that, and gravitated towards him for his teachings," said Mathew Morris, the Grey Friars site director who researched the link between Leicester and the beheadings.

"It is not clear why Roger latched on to the rumors. It is possible no one particularly believed Richard II was still alive -- and the rumors were simply a way of expressing dissatisfaction at Henry IV's rule," noted Morris. "It would be very interesting if we were to find a headless skeleton during our current Grey Friars dig."

Just yesterday redOrbit reported that two University of Leicester interns were already uncovering medieval artifacts at the site, including pottery. The month-long excavation project may also uncover the remains of other notable figures believed to have been buried at the site. Stay tuned for more updates.