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Thousands watch Richard III cortege

Thousands have lined the route of Richard III's cortege as he journeyed to his final resting place 530 years after his death in battle.

In a service rich in symbolism the last Plantagenet king was heralded as a man born of his own time and in the words of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, "a child of war" and sometime refugee.

Delivering the sermon at Leicester Cathedral, the Cardinal said Richard had shown his "steely ability" to pursue his ambitions in a time when power could be won "only by ruthless determination, strong alliances and a willingness to employ the use of force, at times with astonishing brutality".

He told the congregation they should be thankful "that now, political power struggles are settled in a different manner".

Of the man, the Cardinal said Richard had in just a short period of his reign brought about great change, reshaping the English legal system, introducing bail and the principle of blind justice, but had nevertheless fallen.

"Political ambition, if it is not to become toxic, must always be tutored by a determination to serve, especially those most in need," added the Cardinal.

Richard's lead-lined oak coffin was carried into the cathedral after a 22-mile procession in which more than 35,000 people lined the streets to honour his return.

There a service of compline took place after the coffin was borne inside where it lay in repose, surrounded by woodland flowers and branches of willow and yew.

The casket was covered in a specially-made pall depicting scenes from the king's life, together with a crown and a 15th century bible.

Inside, the warrior king - the last English monarch to die in battle - was surrounded by the memory of other soldiers and different wars, notably those of the Leicestershire Regiment whose colours hang in the building near marble memorials to the dead of the Boer War killed at the turn of the last century.

On Thursday, the coffin itself - made by a descendant of Richard's elder sister Anne - will be entombed in the cathedral and Richard finally laid to rest.

Afterwards, American Nancy Lentz, who won a public ballot for a seat in the cathedral, described the service as "fabulous" and "unreal", adding "it was an honour to be here".

"He's been given a bad rap," she added.

"I thought today was absolutely brilliant."

Earlier today, when the cortege carrying Richard reached the old medieval city boundary at Bow Bridge the mayor Sir Peter Soulsby told a crowd of thousands: "King Richard, may you rest in peace in Leicester."

After the king's death at the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire in 1485, his body was stripped and legend had it thrown into the river, at that very spot.

Sir Peter said: "We welcome King Richard back to Leicester, this most historic and modern of cities.

"No longer slung across a horse but now greeted by us with dignity and honour due a king of England."

The mood of the procession had been colourful and celebratory, as the cortege passed through villages near the old battleground.

Thousands packed the narrow country lanes of Dadlington and Sutton Cheney, the village where Richard is said to have prayed before the fight which claimed his life.

There were similar scenes in Market Bosworth and flag-waving crowds lining the roads, or else leaning from their windows for a glimpse of the king's passing, in Newbold Verdon and Desford.

Many gripped white roses - the symbol of the Yorkist king - and later as his coffin was borne through Leicester on a horse-drawn gun carriage, many threw their flowers so they littered the casket.

Midway through his journey through the countryside, the king returned to the scene of his death and in a service atop Ambion Hill, he received a 21-gun salute.

There, Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, told the crowds to "remember a man of integrity, who cared for subjects and had their trust".

He urged them to look anew at the king whose "achievements in his short reign have been over-shadowed by historical myth and Shakespeare's monster".

Dr Stone added: "Let us remember King Richard III. The good king. The warrior king."

The day had begun at the University of Leicester, whose archaeologists discovered the king buried under a council car park in 2012 and who have been the legal custodians of his remains.

Members of the Richard III Society, including Philippa Langley - who campaigned for years to mount a dig for the king's grave - attended a service outside the city campus's Fielding Johnson building.

Afterwards, hundreds gathered along the university exit, some with flags depicting Richard's royal standard.

Once outside the city, the coffin was then taken to farmland near Dadlington where a silver gilt white boar, Richard's sigil, was recently unearthed.

The high status item is thought likely to have belonged to someone close to the king, and may have marked out where the thickest fighting took place near to where Fenn Lane Farm is today.

While there, a casket was filled with soil from Fotheringhay, Middleham in Yorkshire, and Fenn Lane Farm, and blessed, as the warm spring sunshine bathed a crowd of about 300.

The soil was to represent the king's passage through life, as he was born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, three years before the start of the Wars of the Roses, then squired at Middleham, and is believed to have fallen near where the farm buildings now stand.

As the cortege left for another service at Dadlington church, it was led by two mounted knights herald, clad in full plate armour.

After Bosworth, the flag-waving crowds returned again in Newbold Verdon where the cortege containing the remains of a royal passed by takeaways, convenience stores and a gent's barbers, also passing through throngs of people in Desford.

The king's grave site had been thought lost to history until archaeologists discovered his crook-backed skeleton in the remains of an old monastery beneath a Leicester City Council car park.

Ms Langley battled for years for a dig on the site, despite rumours Richard's body had been dumped in the city river after his death.

Today also marks the moment Richard is formally transferred to the cathedral from the custody of University of Leicester, whose archaeologists and scientists identified the king's remains.

It was at Bosworth, where in August 1485 Richard fell while fighting Lancastrian forces under the command of Henry Tudor - later Henry VII, bringing a decisive end to the Wars of the Roses.

Contemporary accounts after the battle told of how Richard's remains were buried "without pompe or solemne funeral" in the Greyfriars monastery.

When archaeologists uncovered his skeleton in August 2012, they found evidence of a hasty burial, with a grave so short the king's head was propped up against its side.

He had suffered eight wounds to his head, among them a brutal slash to the base of skull which cleaved away a large portion of bone.

Another piercing blow, possibly from a sword, had been driven 4ins through his skull.

In contrast to his violent end, Richard's coffin will lie in repose following today's service, where it can be viewed by the general public from tomorrow.

Then on Thursday, his remains will be lowered into a purpose-built tomb made of Yorkshire Swaledale stone, before visitors are allowed back inside the cathedral to see the completed memorial the following day.

His final rest has been delayed by months after distant relatives brought a legal challenge through the courts arguing he should be reburied in York.

However, judges ruled in favour of Leicester, paving the way for a week of events marking the king's life and death, starting with the cortege today.

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