In the eyes of some commentators, Richard III can’t do right for doing wrong. His achievements as Duke of Gloucester or king are minimised or outright denied, his faults magnified, the actions of others – like Edward IV’s executions of Henry VI and George of Clarence – incorrectly attributed to him; and all because he sought to save himself, his family and his country from the potential disaster of a Woodville-dominated minority, possibly by ordering the elimination of his brother’s male heirs.
Ironically, under the circumstances, in the eyes of some people who desperately wanted him to be reburied in York, now Leicester can’t do right for doing wrong. This thriving mercantile city with its stunning Roman archaeology, rich history, handsome civic architecture, fine parks and well-regarded university has been derided as a dump; its mayor and councillors, (naturally and responsibly concerned with promoting their city’s interests and economic well-being) as scheming, venal and corrupt; and its substantial former parish church, now the Cathedral, as an unfit resting place for the last Plantagenet king.
Recently, the Cathedral has been the target of some vicious criticism because it has allowed, and will continue to allow, vintage fairs to be held there. To some this is utterly disgusting, bespeaking lack of respect, honour and dignity. To me it’s a pragmatic response to the Church’s desperate need, in our increasingly secular society, to broaden its appeal, get people in through the door and generate much-needed funds for the upkeep of its historic buildings. And it’s not exactly a new idea; I recall from childhood that local churches often hosted whist drives, coffee mornings, concerts, jumble sales, exhibitions, you name it – surely it’s just the logical extension of the Church’s traditional place as the social as well as spiritual hub of a community. Maybe God would rather have visitors in His house for whatever reason than not have them at all – especially if they’re helping to keep a roof on the place – and I dare say that in future, a lot of the people who attend fairs at Leicester Cathedral will go and visit King Richard’s tomb while they’re at it. Who knows, they might even absorb some Christian vibes at the same time.
Leicester’s wider proposals for events around the re-interment proper have also generated howls of dismay and protest. The plan for his remains to be carried from Bosworth and its neighbouring villages and back into the city across Bow Bridge, echoing King Richard’s last journey, are deemed by some to be humiliating and insulting. Well sure, that’s how it was in 1485; but in 2015 he will travel with ceremony and pomp, with full media coverage and thousands of people (including me, I hope) turning out to honour him and watch him pass. This seems to me like an effective way of expunging the horror of his posthumous treatment by Henry Tudor, rather than repeating it. And as for the day of open-air pageants, parades, music and street entertainment currently under discussion to mark the end of the ceremonies – I’m looking forward to it, because this IS a joyous occasion. King Richard is no longer lost. He will have a visible, world-famous tomb, and is all set to become Britain’s most-visited monarch. Hah! What a smack in the eye for haters like Michael Hicks! What a well-deserved, long-overdue upsurge of interest in Wars of the Roses history! Plus the nature of the event makes it accessible to the great numbers of people who have followed this story with deep interest and will wish to be involved in some way – yup, it makes me want to dance in the streets (because we won’t all fit in the Cathedral).
Finally, as for that tomb with its deeply-incised cross, described by some as looking like a lump of cheese or a forgotten parcel – I admit, at first I didn’t like it much myself. Although I didn’t hate it, either; like a lot of modern sculpture its simplicity is deceptive, and there’s more technical skill involved in precision-cutting those lines than some folk perhaps appreciate. But now that the full concept has been revealed, I actually prefer it to the design originally floated by the Richard III Society – because it will be flooded with light, transforming a rather dull design into something unique, special and nicely befitting this unique and special king. Yes, the lighting will be arranged to illuminate the cross, incorporating the dynamism of photons into the very fabric of the tomb; a glowing symbol of Richard III’s own faith, reflecting the form of life-in-death he has achieved as a global mega-star. Wow! This is such a cool idea – I’m very excited by it, and can’t wait to see how it will be achieved.
So some of the bitter nay-sayers will never visit dreadful Leicester? As far as I’m concerned they’ll be missing a treat. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about an impending historical event – roll on Spring 2015!