Grey Friars female skeleton is possibly of founder

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Archaeologists leading the analysis of human remains found in the Search for Richard III have commented on the second skeleton found at the Church of Grey Friars in Leicester.

The University of Leicester, in association with Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society, is leading the Search for Richard III.  In September, archaeologists disclosed they discovered two skeletons, one of which is being subjected to rigorous laboratory tests.

The University team say they have not yet examined the second set of disarticulated remains of a female found under a car park in Leicester city centre.

Mathew Morris, University of Leicester Archaeological Services’ site director said: “It wasn’t unexpected finding the remains of a woman buried in the friary.  We know of at least one woman connected with the friary, Ellen Luenor, a possible benefactor and founder with her husband, Gilbert.

“However the friary would have administered to the poor, sick and homeless as well, and without knowing where Ellen Luenor had been originally buried we are unlikely to ever know who the remains are of, or why she was buried there.”

Richard Buckley, lead archaeologist of the Grey Friars project and co-director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said that at some point in the past, the bones had been disturbed and subsequently  reburied. He said the skeleton may have been dug up by a gardener when the site was the garden of a mansion house in the 17th century. The remains were then reburied at a higher level than the church floor.

Mr Buckley said:  “These bones comprise what is known as ‘charnel’ and there is evidence on many sites of respect being according to disturbed human remains which were carefully gathered up and reburied or stored in charnel houses.”

Philippa Langley, who conceived the search, undertook extensive desk-based research during the three years it took to launch the Leicester dig project. During this time she and Dr John Ashdown-Hill established seven potential named burials in addition to King Richard’s in the church of the Grey Friars. Of these further seven, only one was female, that of Ellen Luenor, wife of Gilbert Luenor, a possible founder and benefactor of the Grey Friars.

Philippa said: “It was a tenuous connection but an intriguing one only mentioned, as far as we could tell, by the 16th century historian John Stow.”

At the moment of discovery at the dig, Philippa was excited to see another element of the history of the Grey Friars possibly coming to life, in that they may indeed be the remains of Ellen who would have been buried around 1250.

She added: “It’s a slim chance that they could be Ellen, but at least we have a female name to attribute to them and at the moment there is no other.”

The university is currently analysing another skeleton - the only set of articulated remains exhumed on the site – which has apparent battle wounds and curvature of the spine, and could be the remains of Richard III. The University has made it clear that it is not saying it has found Richard III – rather that the skeleton has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination and that the search has moved from an archaeological to a laboratory phase.

The University has added that the outcomes of its investigations are expected in January- and that possible outcomes are:

• The scientific research suggests it is Richard III

• The scientific research suggests it is not Richard III

• The scientific research is inconclusive and therefore conclusions may be drawn from the evidence available.

The Search for Richard III is also the subject of a Channel 4 documentary being made by Darlow Smithson.

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