Cardinal gives homily during historic ceremony in Leicester on Sunday

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has prayed for the soul of Richard III during a service for the dead king.

At a service he described as “so rich in meaning and symbolism”, the body of the last Plantagenet was taken from the Leicester University to the Leicester Cathedral on Sunday.

The remains of the king were found in September 2012 under a car park in Leicester, having been buried under a Greyfiars Friary Church, which was destroyed in the Reformation. Some 35,000 people came yesterday to watch the coffin being taken to the cathedral.

At the service, Cardinal Nichols said that the sprinkling of holy water on the coffin was “a reminder that King Richard, at the beginning of his life, was baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He was thereby called to live as a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Alluding to the violence of the period, known by later historians as the War of the Roses after the symbols used by the warring Houses of Lancaster and York, the Cardinal said: “The course of his tumultuous life has been well traced, caught up as it was in the deadly struggle between dynastic families. In his life he must have known little peace. From his earliest years, Richard’s life bore all the consequences of the violence of the age and its power struggles. He was a child of war, for a while a refugee in Europe, as he was moved from place to place, always in search of safety and protection.

“At the age of 17 he emerged as a public figure and from then on showed his steely ability to pursue his ambitions. In his day, political power was invariably won or maintained on the battlefield and only by ruthless determination, strong alliances and a willingness to employ the use of force, at times with astonishing brutality.

“We may thank God that here political power struggles are now settled in a different manner.”

However, as well as alluding to Richard’s notoriety, most famously for his alleged ordering of the murder of his two nephews, the princes in the Tower, the Cardinal pointed out the king’s great strengths: “Within the depth of his heart, amidst all his fears and ambitions, there surely lay a strong desire to provide his people with stability and improvement. In his two short years as King, he reshaped vital aspects of the legal system, developing the presumption of innocence, the concept of blind justice and the practice of granting bail rather than being held in jail. He established the Court of Requests to give wider access to justice and insisted on the translation into English of all written laws and statutes so that they were readily accessible to all. Nevertheless his reign was marked by unrest and the fatal seepage of loyalty and support.”

He said that Richard was “a man of prayer, a man of an anxious devotion. In a surviving prayer, we hear him pleading with God for the protection of the Archangel Michael and for deliverance from his enemies.”|

Cardinal Nichols added: “We pray for him today just as those who prayed for him at the time of his death in 1485, those whose hearts were not filled with the vengeance of victory or the hatred of an enemy. Among those who prayed for him then was the community of Franciscan Friars, so nearby here, who surely buried him with formal prayer even if also in haste.”

Richard III’s reinterment will be held on Thursday.