Richard III Re-burial: Final Thoughts

For better or worse, it is done: after a week the like of which we have never seen before and are unlikely to ever see again, King Richard III was reburied in Leicester Cathedral, close to his original long-lost grave. Thirty-five thousand people lined the city streets to watch his cortege pass, many of them throwing white roses instead of the squashy tomatoes and jeers predicted by some hysterical journalists. Thousands more had turned out for the preceding ceremonies at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and villages en route to Leicester; and in the following days, the Cathedral had to extend its opening times as twenty thousand people queued, in some cases for hours, to pay their respects at his coffin. Prayers were offered and services performed by senior members of the Anglican and Catholic clergy, in the presence of representatives of other faiths from Leicester’s multi-cultural, multi-racial population. The Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Richard III Society, attended throughout, and the Countess of Wessex came to the re-interment ceremony on behalf of the Queen. The proceedings made world-wide headlines and TV news bulletins; no other medieval monarch has ever attracted this level of international attention, and I found it all heart-warming and extremely moving – especially the climax on Friday night, featuring spectacular fire-sculptures, carpets of roses, fireworks and the glorious pealing of bells.

Now, Richard III’s remains are infinitely better off than they were three years ago: no longer at risk of being destroyed (as they so nearly were) by developments on the site, but safely entombed in a place of high honour within an active house of worship; no longer lost but highly prominent and permanently marked, being visited, mourned and prayed over.

This could and should be the end of the story, but sadly it isn’t. The Bishop of Leicester’s sermon on reconciliation fell on some deaf ears: apparently, thousands of people all round the world regard this as a temporary measure, and vow to continue campaigning until ‘justice’ is done, and the king’s bones are transferred to York Minster. They maintain that since those responsible for the Leicester burial decision will not remain in power forever, a change of personnel will result in an undoing of what has just been so publicly and expensively done; and with self-righteous, blind oblivion to how bad such bullying tactics appear, have kicked their campaign off with a vindictive little petition to try and oust one of these unfortunate people from office (although said petition can’t even spell her name right). Yes, with this kind of thing going on, it’s small wonder that David Starkey dismisses Ricardians as ‘loons’ – God knows, the extremist faction give him enough ammunition. (Mind you, since their last campaign of intimidation failed to get a ‘Richard III Special’ drink removed from the menu of a Leicester milk-bar, I can’t imagine this latest outbreak of spite will succeed in costing the victim her job).

As well as being a disgrace to the name of King Richard, this exercise in futility reminds me of soldiers who carry on fighting after the surrender, unwilling or unable to accept the painful truth that the war is over, the cause lost. Because the time when protests and petitions might have had an effect is long past; if they bore no fruit prior to his re-interment, they certainly will not do so in the future. For members of the royal family, the government, the Church, the judiciary and the vast majority of people, (including some critics of Leicester who have been pleasantly surprised by the dignity and beauty of the proceedings), the matter is as closed as Richard’s new tomb. For every thousand resolved to fight on, there are millions who won’t – who have accepted the situation, feel that justice has been sufficiently served, or else simply couldn’t care less. I mean, where were the mass rallies and placard-waving hordes marching on Downing Street to demand ‘Bring Him Home’ over the last couple of years? Um- conspicuous by their absence; in fact a recent petition to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson attracted more signatures in a few days than the combined York and Leicester burial petitions gained in as many months, which is a telling reflection of the average Brit’s preoccupations and priorities.

So I find it desperately sad that the die-hards were unable to share in the joy and wonder of this occasion. I find it even sadder that instead, they want to waste more time and energy by continuing to rail against a fait accompli, trying to whip up outrage and cause active harm to those they see as enemies. Because even as I write, untold millions of human and animal beings all over the planet are suffering unspeakable agony and injustice through war, famine, natural disaster, poverty, ignorance and deliberate cruelty. There are so many worthy causes crying out for support; causes in which the voices of passionate people actually could make a difference, effect positive change for the living in dire need; causes which are (dare I say it?) more pressingly important to the world than moving the remains of a long-dead monarch yet again.

To me it seems utterly, wilfully pointless, and here are my predictions about the York reburial campaign: no-one significant will ever take any notice. There will never be global mass protests or candlelit vigils – nous ne sommes pas Richard, one might say. No foreign head of state will beseech the British government to dig him up again, or threaten us with war if we don’t. The United Nations will impose no trade sanctions. Neither the European Court of Human Rights nor Amnesty International will take up the cause. No politician of any party will stand on the ‘repatriation to Yorkshire’ issue because it would be a sure-fire vote-loser and they’d get laughed out of Parliament by colleagues with a firmer grip on reality. No Church body will ever re-open a consecrated tomb because of a minority conviction that it’s what Richard III wanted; frankly, I doubt it would happen even if an unequivocal ‘bury me in York Minster’ will ever turned up, due to the outcry and grotesque waste of public money it would entail. The campaign will be limited to a tiny fraction of the tiny percentage of the electorate who bothered to sign the York petition; griping and sniping on social media; and further threats or useless pleas to those unfortunate souls perceived to have influence, until it eventually grinds to a halt because of the sheer weight of intertia massed against it. (Or until some of the perpetrators end up in jail for libel or cyber-bullying, which can’t happen soon enough for my liking).

I could be wrong. Only time will tell – but if Richard III is ever buried in York Minster, well… I’ll eat my cat. In the meantime I’ve had a bellyful of it, so no more blogs from me on this particular aspect of his story, and definitely no tedious ‘yes it’ll happen/oh no it won’t’ arguments or justifications of nasty attacks on anything Leicester-related will be posted on here. I’d like to let him rest in peace now – and I sincerely wish everyone else would do the same.

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5 thoughts on “Richard III Re-burial: Final Thoughts

  1. Bravo Helen. Excellent sentiment. There will always be a handful of extremists in any situation, but unfortunately today’s world gives them undue public presence (not helped by lazy journalists, as witness the reports in the papers that some people were calling the retinerment a ‘pantomime’ which all quoted as evidence the same two individual Facebook posts).

    I’d just query this: “For every thousand resolved to fight on, there are millions who won’t.” I really, really doubt that those resolving to ‘fight on’ number a thousand. I’d be surprised frankly if it was more than a hundred, constantly reassuring themselves that they’re right. Of the 33,000 or so who signed that pro-York petition, I suspect the vast majority either blindly assumed that a Yorkist King was from York, or believed the nonsense that “he said he wanted to be buried in the Minster”.

    It all reminds me of an obsessive James Bond fan who was disgusted at the casting of Daniel Craig and created a website about how bad the actor was and what a disaster Casino Royale would be. Then the film was released to massive critical and popular acclaim. For a couple of weeks this guy continued to post about how bad the film was and how everyone hated it. He’s probably still convinced he’s right. But NO-ONE CARES and he has disappeared.

    The same will happen with this lot. And anyone with a genuine interest in history – however deep or shallow – can carry on as before.

    • As ever, thanks for your wise words, Mike. One thing I forgot to say in the blog was that I might have a bit more sympathy if York City Council had footed half the bill for the excavation, York Archaeological Trust had provided half the personnel and a bid for a York interment, sanctioned by the Minster, had been made at the outset. None of these things happened. Now these (allegedly!) thousands want to appropriate the results of other peoples’ hard work and expenditure – which struck me all along as very unfair to Leicester, and I have no truck with this ongoing stupidity.

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