I must admit that I had heard pretty consistently of the need to honour the body of a dead king; and therefore I assumed that, outrageously, Henry never provided a tomb for Richard. That his body was slung naked over a horse, and abused by passers by as it traveled from Bosworth to Leicester we know – including a stab in the buttocks. The grave dug for it in the Chancel of Greyfriars appears to have been too small; it might even been that his hands were still tied. Then I watched the ceremony in Leicester on DVD, and the grand new tomb he has now, and the righting of a wrong.
But Henry did apparently give Richard a tomb at Greyfriars, Leicester – and an official epitaph was prepared. A copy of the
epitaph survived at the College of Arms (the College of Arms was founded by Richard III), who published the image they own in their newsletter, written by one Thomas Hawley, a Herald between 1509 and 1557.
Of course, this is written by the victor, so there’s a bit of honest gloating going on; but the text is surprisingly moderate; none of the vitriol you might expect at all. Even the ending might be translated as the normal ‘forgive his sins’ line with which most medieval inscriptions end. Also, in 1495, Henry had planned a new alabaster tomb – though, fair dos, he never got round to it.
Anyway, here’s the text:
I, here, whom the earth encloses under various coloured marble
Was justly called Richard the Third.
I was Protector of my country, an uncle ruling on behalf of his nephew
I held the British kingdoms by broken faith.
Then for just sixty days less two,
And two summers, I held my sceptres.
Fighting bravely in war, deserted by the English,
I succumbed to you, King Henry VII.
But you yourself, piously, at your expense, thus honour my bones
And you cause a former king to be revered with the honour of a king
When [in] twice five years less four
Three hundred five-year periods of our salvation have passed.
And eleven days before the Kalends of September
I surrendered to the red rose the power it desired.
Whoever you are, pray for my offences,
That my punishment may be lessened by your prayers
It paints Henry VII in a slightly better light than I’d been led to believe.