An unknown artist’s copy of an original portrait of Richard III (1520, Royal Collection)

An unknown artist’s copy of an original portrait of Richard III (1520, Royal Collection)

Richard III is indelibly remembered as the dark antihero of Shakespeare’s great play, but his real life seems to have been even more complicated and ambiguous. The last king of the House of York of the Plantagenet dynasty was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field by means of a halberd blow which shaved off the back of his skull.  We suddenly know a great deal about Richard III because his remains were discovered a few years ago under a car park (which had once been the churchyard of the Church of Grey Friars) in suburban England!

A photographic portrait of Richard III ca. present

A photographic portrait of Richard III ca. present

The discovery of Richard III’s body in 2012 makes for fascinating reading and we learned all sorts of amazing things, but the researchers and archaeologists were left holding a surplus dead medieval king (and a rather sinister one at that). What to do?

A modern funeral crown in medieval style for the (second?) funeral of Richard III

A modern funeral crown in medieval style for the (second?) funeral of Richard III

For reasons of pomp and tradition, it was decided to reinter Richard’s remains in a fashion befitting an English King—and this required a crown (since such prop is an essential ingredient for royal funerals).  The original medieval crowns of England were lost during the age of the Protectorate (except for the little wedding crown of Richard III’s sister).  The modern crowns of the sovereigns of England are inappropriately anachronistic (not to mention super-valuable)…plus the queen hardly wants some long-dead evil king handling her cool stuff.   Yet there could hardly be a kingly reburial without some sort of crown, so history enthusiasts built their own funeral crown out of copper with gold plating.  The crown featured white enamel roses and cabochon rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and turquoise.  They based the crown on that of Margaret of York, and on descriptions of the open crown which Richard III wore during his last days.

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Funeral crowns purpose-built for the exequies of kings were not unknown during the Middle Ages.  Often these crowns were kept at churches or sacred sites near the burial place of the monarch.  Presumably this will be the future for this strange yet beautiful piece of modern medieval jewelry for the strange and disturbing king.