Night. The late Middle Ages. An angry mob rips open the sealed tomb of a man and carries his fleshless skeleton through the town streets, jeering. Reaching a field of execution, the bones are hurled on a pyre and burnt, then crushed to small fragments. This indignity not being enough, the desecrated remains are then gathered up and hurled unceremoniously into a Leicestershire river while the throng gazes on, casting abuse at the meagre remnants of the hated dead man as the waves swallow them…
A version of River Soar myth about Richard III, now disproved by the finding of his lost grave?
No, but the above story is almost certainly the origin of this once pervasive myth.
It was John Wycliffe, who produced the first Bible in English, whose bones met this fate. A Yorkshire man, who was educated at Merton College in Oxford, he was a noted theologian and philosopher, who became the rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. He wrote books that were considered heretical and was accused of inspiring the Peasant’s Revolt. His followers, the Lollards, were often persecuted…and executed…long after his death. He himself remained a threatening figure to the church even years after he died of a stroke. As he had escaped the normal heretics’ punishment of death by burning, when he lived, it was decided to vent the punishment on his remains. So his skeleton was disinterred, burned and hurled into the River Swift.
Somewhere along the line, this true tale ‘grew in the telling’ and changed, as such stories often do; repeated over and over with added embellishments and errors they lose their original meaning and only retain fragments of the truth…in this case, that the remains of a persecuted man had been dug up from the grave by a mob and thrown into a Leicestershire river. To the average person, centuries after the event, who was better known and more interesting to tell such tales about, a slain King or a heretical theologian?
Once Stuart era cartographer John Speed had written down the legend in regards to Richard, it swiftly took hold and was accepted henceforth accepted as truth by many…including numerous historians, although without one scrap of hard evidence (these historians shall remain nameless!)
The mythologisers had put the wrong man in the wrong river.
You know the rest.