Coat of Arms of Richard III

The Coat of Arms in Richard III’s Tombstone – the Dean’s Discussions at Leicester Cathedral

We welcome Rosalind Broomhall to Dottie Tales, who tells us in today’s guest post about making the Coat of Arms in Richard III’s tombstone.

This week we went to the third of the Dean’s Discussions at Leicester Cathedral – a series of talks with the craftsmen (and women) who worked on the Richard III reinterment project. The talk this week was with Thomas Greenaway, the creator of the Coat of Arms that lies in the Kilkenny marble of the tombstone.

Coat of Arms of Richard III

The Tombstone of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral with the Coat of Arms

Thomas is a young man, who is the only craftsman in the country (and one of only a handful in the world) who works Pietra Dura (literally ‘hard stone’) with traditional 16th century techniques. Think marquetry in stone – indeed Thomas began his career in furniture making and marquetry. A course in Art History led him to Florence, where he discovered Pietra Dura and that in turn led to a 4 year apprenticeship in Italy.

Having checked with the College of Arms for heraldic accuracy, Thomas set about sourcing the stone. The Duke’s Red Limestone was originally mined in Newhaven (Sussex.) That stone is mined out, but a stock held by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House (Derbyshire) was used. Thomas felt it was important to use some local stone in the piece. The Lapis Lazuli is incredibly rare and difficult to source from Northern Afghanistan. And as for the Yellow Chalcedony, Thomas used a pickaxe to mine it himself in Tuscany, (“Tuscany?” said the Dean “I could have come with you.”)

Now the job of creating the coat of arms could begin. There are over 250 pieces of stone in the piece – 19 alone in the head of each lion. The eye is just 3mm thick and 1 mm long. A paper template is made of each piece and this is glued – with beeswax and pine resin – on to a suitable sliver of stone. Choosing the correct piece, with appropriate shading, is tricky and time consuming. Then the stone is cut with a 30 degree bevel using a chestnut bow with iron wire (the wire is threaded through a small drilled hole.) The pieces are then glued together, once again with beeswax. This is best explained from Thomas’s website!  We were privileged to watch a demonstration as we became more astonished at the intricacy and concentration required.

Once all the pieces were backed with slate, Thomas polished it with agate. Since the stones have varying levels of hardness, care has to be taken not to scratch it at this late stage. The next conundrum was how to set the coat of arms into the tombstone. James Elliott (stonemason) had cut a place for it in the Kilkenny marble and it was gently lowered on ribbons into the slot. It fitted!

On a personal note, it was moving to hear that Thomas’s father died shortly before the reinterment and he views the piece not only as a memorial to Richard but also to his father. He had fortunately lived to see it completed. As we left, we looked with fresh eyes at the tombstone.

Update, 5 November 2015:

You can listen to the ‘Dean’s Discussion’ with Thomas Greenaway about Richard III’s crest  here.

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