Richard III historian John Ashdown-Hill dies

Tributes are being paid to John Ashdown-Hill, a historian whose research on Richard III was critical to the king’s remains being discovered in a Leicester car park in 2012

Historian John Ashdown-Hill

Tributes are being paid to John Ashdown-Hill, a historian whose research on Richard III was critical to the king’s remains being discovered in a Leicester car park in 2012. He died on 18 May 2018.

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Remembered as “a prolific author, a leading historian of the Yorkist dynasty, and a real gentleman” by Professor Alison Rowlands from the history department at the University of Essex, Ashdown-Hill played a pivotal role in the project, ‘Looking for Richard’.

A contributor to both BBC History Magazine and History Extra, Ashdown-Hill, who held a PhD in medieval history from the University of Essex, found in the early 2000s that his research countered the long-believed story: that Richard’s bones had been tipped into a river after his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry VII.

Portrait of Richard III of England
John Ashdown-Hill’s research countered the long-believed story: that Richard’s bones had been tipped into a river after his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry VII. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Over a number of years, Ashdown-Hill tracked a line of descent from Richard III’s eldest sister, Anne of York, to a woman living in Canada. Later, he worked with Philippa Langley and others from the Richard III Society to verify the genealogy and the need for a search of a possible gravesite underneath a Leicester car park. After the University of Leicester confirmed that a skeleton found at the site was that of Richard III in February 2013, Ashdown-Hill campaigned to settle the monarch’s final resting place.

            READ MORE: Richard III: a ‘car park king’ timeline

Speaking to History Extra in 2015 about the importance of the find and what it meant to the thousands of people who queued to see the king’s coffin, he explained that it’s “an opportunity to give something back to Richard” and a chance to combat “injustice of the unlevel playing field of history”.

Ashdown-Hill donated a set of beads and a crucifix that were buried with Richard III when the monarch’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral in March 2015, and was awarded an MBE in 2015 for his work on what the Queen described as a moment of “great national significance”.

Members of the British Legion stand by the coffin of King Richard III inside Leicester Cathedral in March 2015 in Leicester. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Members of the British Legion stand by the coffin of King Richard III inside Leicester Cathedral in March 2015 in Leicester. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

As a longtime defender of Richard III’s reputation, Ashdown-Hill addressed a number of common accusations about the last Yorkist king in an article for History Extra in March 2015, including that Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower and that he aimed to marry his niece.

                            READ MORE: 6 myths about Richard III

In later work, Ashdown-Hill wrote on the Yorkist pretender Lambert Simnel and re-examined what is known about the private life of Edward IV.

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The historian had been suffering with motor neurone disease.