Saturday, June 7, 2014

Midnight at Grey Friars

Well, it might have happened this way. This is one of those stories that just come to me & I have to write down as it flows through my head. This is not intended to be a factual retelling of history. It is just what popped into my head when I was wondering how Richard's grave remained "known" yet "unknown," especially after the Dissolution & in light of the widespread belief that Richard's tomb was desecrated & his body thrown in the river.

William fell to his knees before the altar.  His brothers behind him did the same. ‘Forgive us, Lord, for what we are about to do.”  William remained on his knees for a moment longer, hoping for a sign that what they were about to do was not God’s will.  After a few moments, though, and there was no apparent sign of displeasure from God.  William sighed, crossed himself & rose to his feet.

His brothers stood up as soon as he rose. He could see their anxious faces illuminated in the candlelight. “Are you sure this is what we should do, William?” asked Thomas.

“What else would you have us do, Thomas? Let the King’s men come in, find out that the one tomb they’ve been looking for is here? You saw what they did with the tombs at Newarke & Black Friars! Would you have that happen to King Richard’s tomb as well?”

“We were sworn to protect his resting place, not destroy it!” argued James.

William groaned. “We’ve been over this again & again, James!  Either we do it & claim we can’t remember which tomb is the King’s or Tydder’s men destroy it & cast the body in the river along with the rest of the bodies they’ve desecrated!” he replied.

“At least our way, the King will remain in his resting place, undisturbed, James,” said Luke, the eldest of the group. “I remember Brother Matthew telling me how the King was buried here in haste, on Tydder’s  way out of town. The brothers did their best, since neither Tydder or his men offered them any help. They swore to themselves, after the new king left, to protect King Richard. Brother Matthew swore me to the same oath, as I swore all of you. As much as it pains me to destroy the outer monument, I will rest more soundly in my grave knowing he remains undisturbed in his.”

“I still don’t like it!” James thundered back, “but I admit we have little choice.”

The brothers all looked back at Willliam. “Then may God & King Richard forgive us all” said William as he picked up his hammer.

They took up the tools they brought with them & walked one last time to the King’s tomb.  They all seemed to hesitate, no one wanted to make the first strike on the modest, but well-cared for monument.
“We do this for you, King Richard. Loyalty binds us all,” said Luke.  He feebly raised his hammer & brought it down on the tomb.  His efforts made little damage to the monument, but the others, encouraged by his actions, quickly got to work. 

Although the monument was small, it was almost dawn before what was left was cleaned away. The brothers cleaned the stone & dust as best they could, placing the larger fragments in the wagon to haul away. 

William stood with Luke, looking at the bare space that was the only remnant of the King’s tomb left in the choir. “Do you think we did the right thing?” he asked.

“You know this was the only thing we could do. Now we can say we do not know where the King lies.” Luke replied. “Never doubt you did the right thing, Brother.”

“But how can a King of England lie in an unknown, unmarked grave, Brother Luke? He will be forgotten just as easily as he has become reviled!”

“Brother William, the deed is done! And it is better that he be forgotten, than to have his body desecrated & unable to rise with Christ upon His Return!  Would you rather that happen?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then do for yourself what you’ve asked God & King Richard a thousand times since we started: Forgive yourself.”

A crash behind them startled them. They turned to see Brother John & Brother Andrew struggle with some tiles. “Oh, sorry, Brother William, Brother Luke. We need to get started before the King’s Men come!” said John cheerily.

“What are those for?” asked William.

“To cover the bare space with, of course.  I thought it would look less obvious if covered in tile like the rest of the floor. The light in here is dim enough to make it look as though these tiles have been in place forever,” replied John.

“Please, brothers, you are in our way” added Andrew.

William & Luke nodded, stepping aside to let the Brothers do their work.

 When the King’s Men did arrive at Grey Friars, they found very little. A few men, one of them elderly, little treasure, & no monument to King Richard III. As William walked away from what had been his home, he overheard the following exchange:

“Well, how do we report this to the King, sir? We were charged particularly with destroying any monument to King Richard & disposing of what was left of his body,” asked one of the men to his leader.

“Easy, my friend. We find another monument, destroy it, & say that it was Richard’s! Who’s going to know the difference, or much less care!”

The door shut, & William smiled to himself. They had fulfilled their duties. The King was safe. 


  1. I LOVE it, hope it really happened like this. Thank you!

  2. Thank you all! Glad you enjoyed reading it.

  3. The most amazing thing (for me) is that the protector of Richard's tomb be a Brother William. Precisely the name of the friar in my own fiction who would be responsible for such an action. Small world, eh? Despite certain differences in Plot (i.e., wasn't there a physical tomb erected over the spot by the late 1490s? Presumably, this would have been dismantled first...for reuse of its marble, if nothing else...I recall climbing the tower at Tewkesbury, and we were showed how the king's men had stripped off all the valuable roofing materials...shocking to us).

  4. Not so amazing. :) In researching the story, I found that during the Dissolution, the friary's members consisted of a William Gyllys & 6 others who weren't named. So I had to have a William there.

    If you carry my story forward, you could imagine that William or one of the others passed on the information about where Richard's grave was. In other pictures I've seen,the spot has always been marked by an "R," even as a parking lot, as the "R' there didn't line up with any particular parking space; people just assumed it meant "reserved." TO me, this means that someone somewhere knew the truth & it was passed on through the years.

    I did think about people destroying the original monument to reuse it, but by that time, Richard was so reviled,. I don't see how they would have left it at that. There are too many oral histories about the use of Richard's coffin as a horse trough & of course the old saw about his body being thrown in the river. The body in the river could be people confusing what happened elsewhere & just assuming that happened to Richard, but the horse trough one is pretty specific.

    By the way, the monument the monks are destroying is the one commissioned by Henry VII.

  5. Its tidy! Odds are the alabaster tomb if carefully removed becomes recycled after it is sold off! i'm not at all arguing with who the erudite Uni of L people think they have found, quite the contrary! i also think the MBEs that Philippa Langley & John Ashdown-Hill have received are a quiet British understatement! Somewhere on the net I ran into the inscription Henry VII had put on the tomb and by comparison the terse words on the new one are less boastful and more trimly modern! In its own way by confusing outsiders after roughly A.D 1610, John Speed's map that confuses Dominicans with Franciscans in tandem with the story about the mob & the River Soar kept all earnest grave robbers at a minimum! I can see where the friary's monks might move cautiously first, thinking & hoping that the carefully removed alabaster appeases a royal greed and delays the sad & tragic inevitable looting that then follows. I like the story! Keep up the good work! (J.A.D)