Friars on the Run

On Monday morning we’ll learn if human remains found beneath a car park in Leicester are those of Richard III, buried in the city’s Greyfriars church after his defeat at Bosworth in 1485.

Archaeological Dig Open Day at Greyfriars Leicester. 8th September 2012.
Image by RobinLeicester, Wikimedia Commons.

Naturally, the possible discovery of England’s lost king has generated a huge amount of interest and last week I had an email from someone in Lichfield who has been doing some background reading on the subject. In trying to find out more about the story of Greyfriars and King Richard III, they found that the Greyfriars were also linked to King Richard II. The reason for the email was to see if anyone knew anything more about the role of Lichfield in the story, as per the the following passage from the ‘History of the County of Leicestershire’.

The sympathies of the Leicester Franciscans for Richard II brought serious consequences upon the friary in 1402. A Franciscan declared to Henry IV that he and ten other friars of the house at Leicester, together with a master of divinity, had conspired in favour of the deposed Richard. In consequence eight Franciscans of Leicester, with the master of divinity, were arrested and brought to London for trial. The remaining two friars escaped. After two juries had failed to convict, a third jury found the prisoners guilty, and they were executed. Two other Franciscans from Leicester, presumably the two who had at first escaped, were executed at Lichfield about the same time.  In 1402, at a general chapter of the Franciscans held at Leicester, it was forbidden to any of the Order to speak against the king.

 

My anonymous correspondent wondered why the friars were executed here in Lichfield? What had brought them here in the first place, and was there any sympathy for them or Richard II amongst the Franciscan population here?

Remains of North Wall of Nave of Lichfield’s Franciscan Friary.

Other sources expand on the story a little to tell us that it was Prince Henry, the future Henry V (or at least members of his household) who caught and beheaded the friars at Lichfield. Our own county history tells us that in 1402, Henry IV had ‘ordered knights, squires, and yeomen from various parts of the country to meet him at Lichfield for his campaign against Owain Glyn Dŵr‘. This explains perhaps in part why the friars came to be executed here, but if there’s anyone who can add anything further to this story of fugitive Leicester friars in Lichfield, it’d be great to hear from you.

Notes:

A programme called ‘Richard III:The King in the Car Park’ will be shown on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday 4th February.

Talking of archaeology digs in car parks, I believe that the report on the Friary Outer is due out anytime now – as far as I’m aware Victorian cellars and medieval pottery were the main discoveries. Of course, everyone knows that if you want to find lost kings in Lichfield, it’s Borrowcop you need to investigate….

Richard II visited Lichfield several times. Most famously he spent Christmas in 1397 at the Bishops Palace, returning to the city two years later as a prisoner of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, soon to be Henry IV.

Edit 4/2/2013 – I probably don’t need to tell you this but it’s been confirmed beyond any reasonable doubt that it is him! King Richard the Third’s remains will now be interred at Leicester Cathedral. I believe there may be a link between this story and Elford too?

Sources:

Friaries: Friaries in Leicester’, A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 2(1954), pp. 33-35. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=38172

Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485, page 212 edited by Ronald H. Fritze and William Baxter Robison

Lichfield: History to c.1500′, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield(1990), pp. 4-14. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42336

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4 thoughts on “Friars on the Run

    • It’s funny, a few days ago I was musing on the role of small things. Now, an email has pushed Lichfield’s small role in ‘big’ events in history to the forefront of my mind. Have to say had it not been for the email, I would be none the wiser, so I have to say thank you to my anonymous source for asking the questions in the first place!

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    • Brilliant Maddie thank you. Please keep rummaging, it’s amazing what you can find with a good rummage, and please let us know if anything else comes to light!

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