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Leicester is one of the oldest cities in Britain, having been in place since at least the Iron Age. It has a long and fascinating history of upheaval and dissent.

‘Old Jewry’ (bottom left) is a Roman wall from a town-centre bath house.  The origin of its name is disputed; it is probably not associated with the expulsion of Leicester’s medieval Jewish community by Simon de Montfort (top centre) in 1231 but comes instead from traditional beliefs attaching any ruin of unidentified origin to the Jews.

De Montfort was the 6th Earl of Leicester. His ruling against Jews was the forerunner of the 1290 Edict of Expulsion, which expelled all Jews from England, the culmination of centuries of persecution. He is better remembered as the founder of a representative parliament that included ordinary citizens, a radical step in 1258.

Richard III (1452 -85) (centre left) was the last English king killed in battle.  135 years later the cartographer John Speed (his map of Leicester, centre) claimed that after the Battle of Bosworth Field the king had been buried by the river west of the town, but this proved incorrect. The discovery of his remains beneath a Leicester car park captured worldwide attention.

The Richard III Society was founded in 1924. It sought to rehabilitate the King’s reputation, challenging his representation by William Shakespeare as a physically repulsive murderer and placing him instead in an appropriate historical context as a man with a degree of disability wielding power in violent times. There followed decades of speculation and research as to the burial site, aided by the discovery of two descendants of the king’s line who allowed the use of their DNA. In August 2012 the Society funded a search carried out jointly by Leicester University and City Council on the former site of the Greyfriars Friary, which had become a car park. Almost immediately a human skeleton was found, with the unusual characteristics attributed to Richard. By February 2013 the family’s DNA had helped determine that the skeleton was indeed that of Richard III through the use of DNA fingerprinting, which was developed in Leicester in 1984. The king was reburied in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015 with pomp, prayers and commemorations across Leicester. ‘Towards Stillness’, by public space architect Dallas-Pierce-Quintero (bottom right) is a contemporary sculpture about Richard III outside the cathedral, aligned with the axis of Bosworth Field. Twelve vertical steel plates, life-size silhouettes, evoke the moments before, during and after the King’s final journey from battlefield to city.

Richard III would have just missed seeing the oldest house in Leicester. ‘Wygston’s House’ (centre right) was originally a wool-merchant’s house built in medieval times. Remarkably its ownership can be traced continuously from 1557. Just before the English Civil War (1642-51) the citizens of Leicester were in uproar about proposed deforestation and the enclosure of common land for private enterprise. In that time of social upheaval and dissent it was no surprise that Leicester became a Parliamentary stronghold, and in 1645 King Charles I laid siege to the city. John Bunyan (1628-88, top left), the great Puritan author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, had joined the Roundhead army. His life was saved when a fellow soldier took his place during the siege of Leicester; ‘as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died’.

This was a time of many new rival Christian sects. John Bunyan disagreed with his contemporary George Fox (1624-1691, top right), who was a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as ‘the Quakers’. This name was first used as a term of abuse by a judge Fox had told to ‘tremble at the Word of the Lord’. The son of a Leicestershire weaver, Fox denounced the existing religious and political authorities and developed a thoughtful if uncompromising approach to Christianity. The Society of Friends looked for a direct experience of God, shunning ritual and ceremony and holding meetings in homes rather than church buildings. Conscience was emphasised as the basis of morality and the Quakers refused to swear oaths or contribute to any form of violence. The movement crossed social boundaries and was persecuted for its beliefs but had some notable protection from the Puritan Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. There is still an active and welcoming Quaker ‘Friend’s Meeting House’ on Queens Road in Leicester.