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Mar 26, 2015 5:04 AM

From parking lot to cathedral, Richard III is comeback king

The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Richard III is England's comeback king.

The 15th-century monarch was killed in battle, buried in anonymity, vilified for centuries and discovered under a parking lot. On Thursday, he will be reburied with dignified ceremony in the presence of royalty, religious leaders and Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch.

"Sherlock" star Cumberbatch is scheduled to read a verse by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy during the service at Leicester Cathedral. University of Leicester genealogists, leaving no Richard-related stone unturned, have identified Cumberbatch as the late king's second cousin, 16 times removed.

The service is the culmination of a wave of Richard-mania that has been building since archaeologists dug up a battle-scarred skeleton in 2012. Scientific sleuthing including radiocarbon dating, bone analysis and DNA tests confirmed the remains belonged to the long-lost king.

The discovery has brought people flocking to Leicester, 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of London. On Sunday, thousands lined the streets as the king's coffin was borne by horse-drawn carriage through town and out to the site of the Battle of Bosworth, where he fell in 1485, the last English monarch to die in battle. The event, complete with armored knights on horseback, was part medieval reenactment, part solemn homage and part street festival.

Thousands more have lined up for hours to view the former monarch's coffin inside the cathedral.

Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, said a bronze statue of the monarch in the city was "dripping with white roses," symbol of the late king's House of York.

"It's the most amazing sight imaginable," said Stone, who has campaigned for years to overturn the king's reputation for villainy.

"People are beginning to realize the injustice that has been awarded to King Richard," he said. "It's time he was awarded the honor and respect he should have been given 500 years ago."

Richard was defeated and deposed by the forces of Henry Tudor, who reigned as King Henry VII, ending a tussle for the throne known as the Wars of the Roses. The humiliated Richard was buried, without a coffin, in a church that was later demolished.

He was portrayed as a hunchbacked villain in Shakespeare's play "Richard III" and accused by many historians of murdering his two young nephews, who were potential rivals to the throne.

The discovery of Richard's remains has emboldened those who hold a more positive view. Some historians claim Richard was a relatively enlightened monarch whose reign between 1483 and 1485 saw reforms including the introduction of the right to bail and the lifting of restrictions on books and printing presses.

Thursday's service of re-interment not a funeral, organizers stress, since he probably had one in 1485 will be led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and attended by dignitaries and descendants of the combatants at Bosworth.

Queen Elizabeth II a distant relative of Richard, though not a descendant is not attending the service, but has written a message to be printed in the order of service. The royal family will be represented by Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wife of the queen's son Prince Edward.

The king's remains will lie inside a lead-lined oak coffin, its lid carved with a rose and the words "Richard III 1452-1485." The coffin was made by Michael Ibsen, a 17th great-grandnephew of Richard whose DNA helped identify the parking-lot skeleton.

At the end of the service, the coffin will be lowered into a tomb made of Yorkshire Swaledale stone.

The cathedral has said the week of ceremony offers the king the "dignity and honor" he was denied immediately after his death.

But others think the parade of pomp is a bit unseemly.

Medieval historian Sean McGlynn wrote in the Spectator magazine that it was distasteful that "a notorious child killer" was receiving such an honor.

"It seems that royalty can literally get away with murder," he wrote.


Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JillLawless


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