Although Leicester, which lies on the River Soar, is now a county town and unitary authority, it did not even become a city until 1919, and its parish church of St Martin’s was not consecrated as a cathedral until 1927.
It was named Ratae Coritanorum after the Coritani Tribe, by the Romans who settled here around 47CE in the capital of the tribe. Originally a military base guarding the Fosse Way leading from Exeter to Lincoln, it grew into a major trading centre. The remains of the Roman baths have been excavated at Jewry Wall, to the west of the town.
Little is known of the very “Dark Ages” in Leicester, which was settled in the 6th century by Angles and became part of the Kingdom of Mercia, with an Anglo Saxon Bishop in place until he fled from the invading Vikings in the 9th century. By the time of the compiling of the Domesday Book, the town was known as Ledecestre, “the town of the Ligor people,” an early name for the River Soar.
After the ultimate battle in the Wars of the Roses, at nearby Bosworth, King Richard III, having been slaughtered by the rebel army, was unceremoniously stripped and taken to Leicester to be buried at Greyfriars Church, although it is said his corpse was later exhumed and thrown in the River Stour on the orders of Henry VII.
Despite Cardinal Wolsey being buried at Leicester Abbey in 1530, Lady Jane Grey being born at Bradgate Park, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester being Queen Elizabeth’s lover, little is left of Leicester’s medieval past, the 14th century Guildhall next to the “cathedral” being its main attraction, the abbey is just foundations, the castle scanty.
In the Medieval college area known as the Newarke (new work) Liberty, which was exempt from taxation until the 19th century, stand the 14th century Magazine Gate and the Western Gate leading to the castle, and the Trinity Hospital and Chantry House between.
During the Civil War Leicester once again opposed the rightful king, choosing to side with the Parliamentarians. It was not until 1645 that the Royalists laid siege to the town, as a ploy to draw Cromwell’s forces away from Oxford. Artillery was set up on the earthworks at Raw Dykes and, when a surrender was not forthcoming, the Newarke was stormed and the town sacked.
The Industrial Revolution reached Leicester, with the arrival of the Grand Union Canal in the 1790s and the railway link in the 1860s, giving it links to Birmingham and London. From this date the population quadrupled before the start of the new century, with textiles, hosiery, footwear and engineering being the main employers.
From the Norman Conquest, Leicester used the coat of arms of William I’s companion Robert de Beaumont, the first Earl of Leicester’s cinquefoil on a red field. However when Leicester received its city status in 1919 it applied for changes which showed its allegiances, when it added the supporting red lions of the Lancastrians and the Tudor motto of Elizabeth, Semper Eadem, “always the same.”