Solar eclipse echoes the fantastic astronomical events which took place during the time of Richard III

Historical astronomical data of the time of Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth examined by University of Leicester

  • Richard III’s corpse could have been publicly displayed beneath a blood moon following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth
  • A solar eclipse would have darkened the sky 530-years-ago today (MARCH 16) as Richard III’s wife Anne Neville died
  • Star charts showing the night sky on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth have been studied by University of Leicester photographer Colin Brooks

This Friday’s solar eclipse has much relevance to Ricardians as it does for countless astronomers and stargazers across the globe.

With the reinterment of King Richard III just days away, all eyes are on Leicester and Leicestershire and the dignified reburial of the last Plantagenet King of England.

But a rare astral event – a solar eclipse – which took place 530-years-ago today (MARCH 16) would have been seen by the medieval monarch who would have looked up and seen the sky darken as the Moon passed between the Earth and the Sun.

But for Richard it was a dark day for more than one reason.

It was also the day his wife Anne Neville died.

This Friday, astronomers will look to the heavens and see the same phenomenon.

Accounts of Richard’s fall at the Battle of Bosworth mention the eclipse as an omen.

However, historian and former lecturer at the University of Leicester  David Baldwin said they were more than likely penned in hindsight.

He said: “The Croyland Chronicler says only that there was a great eclipse of the sun on the day Queen Anne Neville died – he does not suggest that it boded ill for her husband.

“Polydore Vergil doesn’t mention it at all.

“I suspect that it’s a case of someone being wise after the event when Richard had actually been killed.”

In 1986 David Baldwin famously made the first serious suggestion that King Richard III’s remains could lie undisturbed beneath the Grey Friars car park in Leicester, where they were eventually discovered by University archaeologists in 2012.

A second cosmological occurrence – which is just as poignant – took place following the warrior king’s death at Bosworth.

As Richard’s defeated body lay beneath the arches of the Church of the Annunciation, in Leicester, it is believed that a blood-red moon shone down on his battle-scarred corpse.

University of Leicester chief photographer and member of the Leicester Astronomical Society Colin Brooks, who studied historical astronomical data from 1485, said: “Richard’s body was taken to Leicester and displayed for three days, and at night the near full Moon would be shining down on his naked and broken body.

“During the eclipse, depending on the amount of volcanic dust in the atmosphere, the appearance of the Moon could vary in colour between orange and a deep blood-red.

“Geological evidence suggests that significant eruptions did occur in the mid-15th century.”

Colin has also mapped the position of the stars and planets in Richard’s day and created new images of how the sky would have looked on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth.

He said: “Using planetarium software, I traced the position of stars and planets during important moments in the life, and death, of Richard III.

“Extra research was required for the accurate position of the Moon which I sourced through NASA archives covering the period 1485.”

Historical reports of these two eclipses can be accurately verified, says University of Leicester Professor of Astrophysics and Space Science Paul O’Brien.

He said: “It’s known accurately as we know the orbit of the Earth and Moon accurately – so you apply the laws of physics and work backwards.

“Observations of past eclipses, when and where they were seen, helps to determine what happened to the Earth’s rotation in the past.

“The uncertainty for the 1485 eclipse is much less than a day so for that one we can be sure it happened on March 16.”

 

There have been more than 300 solar eclipses since 1485.