Archaeologists To Open Stone Coffin Found With Richard III
July 23, 2013

Archaeologists To Open Stone Coffin Found With Richard III

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

UK archeologists said they plan to lift the lid on a stone coffin this week that was found at the same Grey Friars archeological site as the recently discovered remains of King Richard III.

Experts said they expect the coffin to contain either a medieval knight or one of two eminent Franciscans who lived at the nearby friary.

The unusual coffin was discovered in September, but the archeological team said they weren't able to get to it until now. The event will essentially mark the end of the University of Leicester's second dig at the Grey Friars site.

Suspected to have been buried over 200 years before Richard, the artifact is the first fully intact stone coffin found in Leicester and is expected to contain a high-status individual.

"Stone coffins are unusual in Leicester - and this is the first time we have found a fully intact stone coffin during all our excavations of medieval sites in the city," said site director Mathew Morris, of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services. "I am excited that it appears to be intact."

"We plan to get a plan of the coffin by measuring it and taking photos," he said. "Then we will lift the lid up to see what is inside."

Two potential candidates are former leaders of the English Grey Friars order - Peter Swynsfeld, who died in 1272, and William of Nottingham, who died in 1330. The grave could also contain a local knight and 'sometime mayor of Leicester' called Mutton. This gentleman is thought to actually be 14th century knight Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, who died between 1356 and 1362. "The coffin could be William de Moton, Peter Swynsfeld or William of Nottingham -- who are all important people. Swynsfeld and Nottingham were heads of the Grey Friars order in England," Morris said.

Regardless of who is found in the coffin, the Grey Friars site will most likely be remembered as the burial place of the much-maligned Richard III. The former king has experienced a bit of image rehabilitation in recent months since the discovery of the site, and a Richard III visitors center and museum are planned for Leicester.

Richard III is probably best known from the Shakespearean play that bears his name. Written around 100 years after his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the play derides Richard as a power hungry manic, with lines like, "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Recent reconstructions and descriptions of Richard, enabled by the discovery of his remains in a parking lot last September, have tended to paint him as a sympathetic figure who suffered from a curvature of the spine. A 2013 documentary titled Richard III: The King in the Car Park detailed the quest to unearth the lost king's remains, and National Geographic recently aired a special program that revealed a computer-aided reconstruction of his likeness.

Richard's remains are scheduled to be re-interred next year for around $1.5 million at a raised tomb in the Leicester Cathedral.