Mystery coffin-within-a-coffin found at Richard III site

The site were Richard III was discovered is turning up more fascinating archaeological remains. The latest find is a a mysterious coffin-within-a-coffin.

Mystery coffin discovered at Grey Friars dig site - Credit:  University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is continuing its dig at the Grey Friars site in the centre of Leicester, the same place where they found the remains of Richard III last year. On July 23rd the archaeologists lifted the lid of a medieval stone coffin that they had come across.


Charlotte Barratt, writing the Grey Friars Dig blog, explains “There was a lot of breath holding while this happened. Nobody really knew what they expected to find inside.

“Inside we saw a lead coffin, most of it is in fairly good condition. The “feet end” has degraded and the occupants feet are visible, but apart from that there are no identifying features! It is like an elaborate game of pass the parcel! So, at this stage, we are no closer to finding out who it is.”


Coffin within a coffin - Credit:  University of LeicesterArchaeologists have taken the inner lead coffin to the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and will carry out tests to find the safest way of opening it without damaging the remains within.

It took eight people to carefully remove the stone lid from the outer coffin – which is 2.12 metres long, 0.6 metres wide at the “head” end, 0.3 metres wide at the “foot” end and 0.3 metres deep.

As for who is buried in this ‘coffin-within-a-coffin’ speculation is focusing on one of three prestigious figures known to buried at the friary.

These include two leaders of the English Grey Friars order – Peter Swynsfeld, who died in 1272, and William of Nottingham, who died in 1330. There are also records which suggest grave of ‘a knight called Mutton, sometime mayor of Leicester’ is located at the Grey Friars church. This may be 14th century knight Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, who died between 1356 and 1362.


Grey Friars site director Mathew Morris explains. “The stone coffin was always the big thing we wanted to investigate during this dig. For me, it was as exciting as finding Richard III. We still don’t know who is inside – so there is still a question mark over it.

“None of us in the team have ever seen a lead coffin within a stone coffin before. We will now need to work out how to open it safely, as we don’t want to damage the contents when we are opening the lid. The coffin could contain William de Moton, Peter Swynsfeld or William of Nottingham – who are all important people. Swynsfeld and Nottingham were heads of the Grey Friars order in England.”

While the archaeological work takes place, the site site also being prepared for the new King Richard III Visitor Centre, which will showcase some of the finds from the site.


Click here to follow the Grey Friars Dig blog

Grey Friars site - Credit:  University of Leicester

Source: University of Leicester