A Funeral Pall for Richard III

A Funeral Pall for Richard III

Many of us who were in Leicester for the week of Richard III’s Reinterment admired the beautiful pall, which was laid over his coffin while he was lying in repose in Leicester Cathedral.

Pall, from Latin pallium meaning ‘cloak’, is simply a large cloth used to cover a coffin. Funeral palls have a long tradition in the English church and were widely used in the medieval period for higher status burials. Noble persons were often buried inside a church, as Richard III originally was and now is again. Their coffins were flat-topped, which was then covered with a pall, which also applies to the king’s present coffin. On top of the pall would be placed some symbol to represent the dead, this could be a coat of arms, a sword, a crown or an effigy (though the latter was reserved for royalty and bishops).

In medieval times palls were generally black, the colour of death and mourning, though today – if they are used at all – they are usually white, to remind us of the hope of resurrection and eternal life given in baptism.

However, the black did clearly not apply to very high status funerals. When the coffin of Edward IV lay in Westminster Abbey before being conveyed to Windsor, it was “draped [with] a pall of cloth of gold with a cross of white cloth of gold”, a doubtlessly very valuable item, which seems to have disappeared afterwards. [1] Arthur, the older son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and heir to the throne, died in 1502 and “a rich cloth of gold [was laid] on the body”. [2]

On the other hand, when Edward IV’s third son George died in 1479 at the age of two, his coffin was “draped with one black cloth with a white cross on it”. [3] Given the history of palls in medieval times, it is fitting that King Richard III also had one.

King Richard’s coffin arrived on 22 March 2015 at Leicester Cathedral. During the cortege that took his remains from the University via Bosworth to the Cathedral, the oak coffin had been exposed. The sunshine showed the woodgrain in all its beauty. The coffin was dignified in its simplicity. It had fittingly been made by Michael Ibsen, a descendent of Richard’s sister Anne and one of the DNA donors, which had helped to establish the identity of the remains found in the former church of the Greyfriars in 2012.

Once the cortege had arrived at Leicester Cathedral, it was brought into the church and a Service of Compline followed. During the service, the pall was placed over the coffin by descendants of four peers who fought both for and against king Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485.

A Funeral Pall for Richard III

The Funeral Pall for Richard III

The pall was created by Jacquie Binns, who crafts works of art for churches. Her works can be found in various churches and cathedrals, among them St Albans Cathedral, which was of particular interest to me. She uses a variety of techniques for maximum effect to increase the play of light and texture on the surfaces.

Jacquie was commissioned by Leicester Cathedral in 2013 to create the funeral pall for Richard III. She designed and created a fascinating mix of images with relevance to Richard, envisaging four themes:

Light out of darkness,
The living and the dead,
The past and the present,
The Heavenly and the Earthly

She spent twelve months researching and preparing samples for the pall. She then spent seven months working on the actual pall, which was finished on 27 February 2015.

The pall is made out of black material, on which the illustrations seem to be glowing. In the centre of the cloth is Richard’s coat of arms. This would be on the part covering the top of the coffin. Above it, above Richard’s head inside the coffin, a Crown of Roses is embroidered. At the top of the circle is the cinquefoil rose for Leicester, the circle is completed with six white roses.

There are altogether six seraphim, two on each of the long sides, and one on each of the short sides, representing the Heavenly. The two seraphim at the head and foot of the coffin have shields. One of them carries the symbol of St Martin for the Cathedral, which is dedicated to St Martin, and the other the Leicester City Council logo of the cinquefoil rose again.

The past and the present, as well as the Earthly and the living and the dead, are represented by nine figures on each side in three groups of three people each, divided by the seraphim. On the one side are people from Richard’s time and on the other people of the present.

From left to right, the first group on the side for the past are three anonymous people: a mourner, a lady in a rich robe and a knight in armour. In the middle group there is Richard’s son, Edward, with a handkerchief to indicate ill health (he predeceased his parents in 1484), St Martin with his coat cut into halves for Leicester Cathedral and Richard’s queen, Anne Neville, based on her depiction in the Rous Roll. The third group are again unidentified representatives: a bishop, a grey friar holding a model of the church where Richard was originally buried and a priest holding a chalice.

On the opposite side, the present day side, the first group represents Leicester University: former Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist, with one of the medieval floor tiles found during the dig, and Jo Appleby, the osteology expert, holding Richard’s skull. The middle group stands for City and Church with the Mayor of Leicester with a brief case, David Monteith, the Dean, holding a Bible and Tim Stevens, the Bishop, with a one of the insignia of his office, a crozier. The last group shows representatives of the Richard III Society: Philippa Langley with a portrait of Richard III, John Ashdown-Hill with his book and Dr Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, with a silver boar, Richard’s badge.

All the figures stand on shot silk in red and green. In a religious context the red symbolises the blood of Christ and the green the everlasting life. However, red and green are also the colours of Leicester. They can be seen in the timber roof of the Cathedral, but they also are the colours of the Leicester City Tigers Rugby Team.

While King Richard’s remains were lying in repose in the Cathedral, the crown donated by John Ashdown-Hill was placed on the crown of roses and a Bible was placed at the opposite end of the coffin.

After the reinterment of King Richard’s remains the pall is on permanent exhibition in the Cathedral with the crown held above the Crown of Roses.


1. Information on the use of funeral palls is based on: Van Heest, E., ‘A Symbol of Faith: Using a pall in Christian funerals’, Reformed Worship (June 1992). URL: http://www.reformedworship.org/article/june-1992/symbol-faith-using-pall-christian-funerals [last accessed 12 May 2015]; and ‘Funeral Pall’, Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia. URL: http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=4911 [last accessed 12 May 2015]

2. Sutton, A.F. and Visser-Fuchs, L. with Grifffiths, R.A., The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor. The Richard III Society, 2005, p.16 and note 70

3. ‘Funeral Pall’

4. The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor, p.53

5. Information on the Richard III pall and other works by Jacquie Binns on her website, URL: http://www.jacquiebinns.com/ [last accessed 27 April 2015]. There are also very clear photographs of the pall. You can watch Jacquie working on the pall in a short YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iviyfXm5afU [last accessed 11 May 2015]

Further information on Richard III’s pall:
‘King Richard’s pall – a work of art and history’, King Richard in Leicester (23 March 2015), URL: http://kingrichardinleicester.com/king-richards-pall-a-work-of-art-and-history/ [last accessed 1 April 2015]
‘King Richard III’s funeral pall’, National Churches Trust (1 April 2015). URL: http://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/news/king-richard-iiis-funeral-pall [last accessed 27 April 2015]
‘Figures from University feature on King Richard III Pall’, University of Leicester (30 March 2015). URL: http://www2.le.ac.uk/news/blog/2015-archive-1/march/figures-from-university-feature-on-king-richard-iii-pall [last accessed 27 April 2015]

Update, 5 November 2015:

You can listen to the ‘Dean’s Discussion’ with Jacquie Binns about the coffin pall here.

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