The Epitaph and Tomb Henry gave Richard

Richard new TombI 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.

College of Arms

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 RIII
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.


9 thoughts on “The Epitaph and Tomb Henry gave Richard

  1. Interesting, “justly called Richard the Third”, so Henry recognises Richards claim to the throne? Or am I missing something?
    Secondly, “the red rose the power”. I’ve always been told that the entire rose thing was an invention of Will Shakespeare, Walter Scott or Laurence Olivier or somebody of that era, but here is the fauna in question swanning about rather earlier than that.
    Finally; no mention of the usurped princes?
    All in all, food for thought for us casual history fans.

    1. Hi Derfel – yes that is interesting; However, it accords with the fact that Henry declares the start of his rule on 21st August 1485; which was cheeky, but he didn’t appear to claim that Richard was no king at all. The Red Rose thing itself was not entirely an invention; certainly as soon as he arrived, Henry plastered Red Roses and the new Tudor rose all over the place, like some mad horticulturalist. The invention was a question of timing – the White Rose was just one of the Yorkist symbols, and during the Wars of the Roses the protagonists didn’t use the phraseology Wars of the Roses, rather the Cousin’s Wars if they referred to it at all as a thing. The whole flower garden thing was Shakespeare; and the primacy of the White Rose as a Yorkist symbol came from the Tudor Rose idea. If nothing else, Henry had an eye for a nice design. And yes the absence of Princes is interesting; but really, Henry, illegitimate as he pretty nearly was, was keen to just sweep all of the debate about succession under the carpet and get on with the business of telling everyone that it was his throne by right.

      1. David,

        as you surely have observed, in history it seems that the only thing that matters as to one having the “right to the throne” is the ability to take and keep it. I see all sorts of justifications made throughout history to back up the reigns of several monarchs, however tenuous their claim thereto. Seems to me that actually holding power is what sanctifies a reign.

        1. Ooh dear that’s terribly reductionist, and surely to be resisted! The cry of tyrants and strong men everywhere, the ends justifies the means, I am therefore I rule.

  2. There is a reference to the red rose that pre-dates Bosworth. Welsh contemporary poetry refers to Henry as ‘the Red Rose of Somerset’ while he is still in exile.

    Source The Bardic Road to Bosworth – Hon Society of the Cymmrodorion

  3. I am seriously late in reading these- and I’ve learned a lot! This is brand new to me! I had no clue and assumed that Richard’s body was thrown in a too small tomb and promptly forgotten. The fact that Henry did provide this for Richard makes me feel a tiny bit (very tiny) more inclined to see a bit of good in Henry Tudor. And the epitaph is a !ot nicer than I would have ever thought!

  4. There is a school of thought that Henry was responsible for the demise of the Princes in the Tower, which would explain his having nothing to say about Edward. I think Richard is the leading candidate in their murders, but rather than just wanting the crown, he may have been concerned about the well being of himself and his family should the Woodvilles maintain control over the crown.

    1. LW, I lean more towards Henry Tudor killing them, but do acknowledge that it’s possible Richard did it and if he did, it was out of self-preservation more than anything. The upstart Woodvilles wanted his head on a spike for sure. I would’ve done the same, were I in his shoes.

  5. The image above of the epitaph from the manuscript, is it possible to obtain that in a higher resolution somewhere? Thanks.

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