LEICESTER, England — King Richard III may have been buried quickly and without pomp the first time, but 530 years later, England is reveling in a final farewell to its long-lost monarch.
On a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon on the battlefield where Richard III fell in 1485 — he was the last English king to die in battle — throngs of well-wishers, some dressed in medieval costume and blowing trumpets, gathered to honor England’s last Plantagenet king.
Richard III is one of the best known monarchs in British history, famous — and infamous — in large part due to William Shakespeare’s namesake play, with its hunchbacked, power-hungry tyrant sanctioning the murder of his nephews, who were rivals to the throne, in the Tower of London.
But the whereabouts of his grave remained a mystery until 2012, when archaeologists discovered a skeleton with a twisted spine underneath a parking lot here, formerly the site of a church.
Today, the grave site is covered by a glass floor in the Richard III Visitor’s Center, which tells the life story of the controversial king and the science that led to the identification of his remains.
“I am very moved, far more than I thought I would be,” said Nance Crawford, 74, a playwright from Los Angeles who was staring solemnly at the dug-out area of brown earth that held Richard’s remains for over half a millennium. (For those wondering where — precisely — the remains were found, a hologram outline of the skeleton is beamed on to the spot every few seconds.)
Crawford’s friends raised $6,000 to cover the cost of her trip after she won a coveted ticket to attend a private service Monday at Leicester Cathedral for members of the Richard III Society. This is a group dedicated to rehabilitating the reputation of a king they say was much maligned by Shakespeare and supporters of Henry Tudor, who killed Richard after he was unhorsed in battle.
Richard will be reburied here Thursday, a stone’s throw from where his skeleton was found, but not before a little ceremony and fanfare.
In Leicester, locals gathered Sunday in the center of the city to watch a televised funeral cortege on a big screen. Some, such as Jed Jaggard, 25, were dressed in period costume, in his case a soldier from the 15th century.
“The number of times I’ve had a camera shoved in my face today is remarkable,” he said.
The funeral cortege, led by knights wearing plate armor and riding horses, passed sites of significance to Richard III, such as the Bow Bridge that he crossed to battle Henry Tudor’s forces. It is also said that his naked and battered corpse — analysis of his remains showed he suffered eight wounds to the skull, one to the ribs, and another to the pelvis — was slung on a horse’s back and carried into the city over that same bridge.
As dusk fell, more than 650 people gathered for an evening service at Leicester Cathedral, the king’s final resting place.
Richard was Catholic and the service was led by the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Nichols said that Richard had a “steely ability” to pursue his ambitions but also noted that in his two brief years as king, he reshaped aspects of the justice system, introducing the concepts of presumed innocence and granting bail.
Self-described Ricardians from around the world descended on Leicester this week to soak up the many events, including Matthew Evans, 51, a police officer from Clearwater, Fla., who wrote his college thesis on the debate over the likely location of Richard III’s remains — he proudly says he rejected the theory that they were flung into the nearby river.
When Evans arrived at London’s Gatwick Airport, he told an immigration official that he was here for a funeral.
“Don’t worry,” he recalled telling the official, who expressed sympathy, “he’s been dead for a long time.”