Troll-Tickling: Have Harmless Fun with Facebook Fools!

You know the type. Someone posts an interesting, useful, feel-good item on Facebook and they instantly douse it with cold water. Hijack it with their own irrelevant agenda. Make ill-tempered, ill-informed criticisms which upset other people. And when challenged, they gaslight, deny, twist and distort, get hysterical, and start hurling playground abuse.

‘I’m entitled to my opinion,’ this type of troll will at some point proclaim, and continue to express it, willy-nilly. Well, I’ve got news for you: your precious opinion means zip. Nada. Nothing. Same as mine. They’re just our personal knee-jerks, often in response to issues which don’t affect us, or we know little about. And just because everyone’s entitled to their opinions, it doesn’t follow that anyone else cares a hoot what they are, or that we’re entitled to inflict them on others whenever/wherever, irrespective of context – that’s for infants yet to learn self-control, manners, and tact. I know if I shared all my weird, extreme, judgey opinions, I wouldn’t have a single friend left apart from Hubcap. I mean, say someone comes round all excited to show off her sexy new leggings. You’re entitled to the opinion that only the very young and very thin should ever wear pale peach; but it would be unkind to tell her, ‘They cling to every bulge of your cellulite and make you look like you forgot to put your pants on.’ No, you quietly let her come to her own epiphany when she glimpses her rear view in a mirror. Or not, if dimply nude is a look she likes. Either way, her choices are none of your business, so keep it to yourself. I speak from painful experience. Certain members of my family were masters of the ‘hurt blurt’ – e.g. ‘By ‘eck, lass, you’ve put weight on.’ (Thanks for noticing, Grandma, you lantern-jawed hag). Or ‘I must say, I don’t like your hair.’ (Why must you, aunt? Oh yes, silly me – you’re ‘entitled to your opinion’).

So the cardinal rule if you don’t want to be trollish yourself is, ‘If you can’t be nice, be quiet.’ It used to infuriate me when the narcissists, obsessives, and passive-aggressive control-freaks kicked off, ripping apart harmless posts, and sowing discord and distress with their ‘opinions’. I accordingly unfriended certain individuals, unfollowed groups which allow or encourage trolling, and initiated a zero-tolerance approach to it wherever possible, because life’s too short to waste on this peculiar brand of attention-seeking.

Alas, sometimes I still get ambushed, as in a recent nasty episode with the nature action group Hubcap and I founded last year. It’s a given that the group (politically unaffiliated/cross-party/united by green principles) must support our local authority, whatever its political complexion, as a major landowner without whose permission we can do very little practical work and stand no chance of achieving our ambitions for an integrated Community Nature Reserve. Currently, Wakefield Council retains the Labour majority it’s had for years – and here, Red means Green in a big way, with a highly pro-active environmental agenda promoted by the Deputy Leader (one of our members) and supported by a local Labour Group willing to get down and dirty with us (unlike other political parties we invited). Therefore currently, it’s a given that our group supports Labour because that’s who we have to work with: an authority which serves our green agenda well and has supported us generously from the outset. And whatever policies we, or other group members, might disagree with in areas outside our remit, like housing or road-mending, we’re always going to extol good environmental initiatives from any source.

For 99.9% of our members, irrespective of their voting preference, this goes without saying. The other 0.1% couldn’t put party politics aside for the general good, or respect our position/the positive relationship we absolutely need to maintain with the Council. One, our Conservative ward councillor no less, trolled the jolly posts I shared about community tree plantings and wildlife ponds on Council land to try and score petty points in advance of the local elections. Another, a supporter/admin of the group in which he was stirring up opposition, (naturally, he didn’t dare attack projects developed/carried out by his fellow members on our group’s private page), obliged me to censor my defence and rebuttal of the inevitable, ill-informed oars that were duly stuck in; then stopped talking to me and implanted another ‘hostile’ who immediately started sniping, arguing about politics, and trying to dictate what I could and couldn’t say. As administrator. On a page I’d created. Yeah, right. Under the circumstances, none of this was remotely funny. The implications of being publicly attacked by group members/our elected member were far too serious – I felt sick if I saw a notification that said councillor had commented on one of my posts because I knew it meant trouble – and we cut their shenanigans short by booting out and blocking all three.

However, normally I take a different tack with trolls, (when I can be bothered to engage at all). Having, by and large, negotiated the rocky, storm-tossed seas of menopause to arrive on the tranquil beach of late middle-age, I’ve learnt to recognise these types less as people than as collections of personality disorders, all alike, and tediously predictable regardless of age or gender. (They’re relatives of certain Old Gits From Hell who’d been plaguing us for years, until recently laid to rest by some of the most exquisitely enjoyable, lethal letters I’ve ever composed – but that’s another story). Anyway, now I can float serenely detached and observe their interactions, I’ve also learnt how to have big fun thwarting and teasing trolls without stooping to their level/saying things I’ll later regret/violating Facebook rules – and have just enjoyed a highly entertaining (if painful on others’ behalf) few days watching a troll make an utter tit of herself on a Ricardian page I follow.

First she did the classic ‘cold water down the neck’ thing on someone’s inoffensive, informative post about new ‘grotesques’ made for Leicester Cathedral, where Richard III was reburied back in 2015 – revealing herself as one of the lobby of overgrown babies still whining because they didn’t get their way, waging futile campaigns for the poor soul to be dug up again/reburied in York because they’re sure it’s what he wanted, and chronically incapable of hearing or saying anything positive about anything connected with Leicester.

People (including an admin) began telling her to pipe down, because everyone’s sick to death of a subject on which there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t been said a million times – usually, by this brigade, in terms laden with abuse and false accusation. But that was her opinion, and wasn’t she allowed to air it? Well, no, thought I; so, deciding to indulge myself for once, I waded in to start Troll-Tickling – and if you fancy attempting this sport, follow these few handy hints:

  1. Forewarned is Forearmed.

Pathological narcissism and non-assertive behaviours (aggression, manipulation, guilt-tripping etc) are so common you can find endless articles online about how to deal with them. The psychological angle is fascinating to study and gives you a real edge, because such folk are so far up their own backsides they have no sense of self-awareness, only of entitlement; you can learn to understand them, but they’ll never understand you because they can’t even understand themselves, and have no idea how to respond to polite self-assertion; plus they’re so predictable you can play them like fish without them ever realising it’s a game, much less knowing the rules. It’s tragic, really; I’d hate to live in that miserable head-space. So if I do choose to spar, it’s always with the hope that a grain of truth will hit home and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pause to reflect, and gain a tad more regard for the world outside themselves.

In that spirit, I mildly put it to the troll that given the page’s name and purpose, it wasn’t an appropriate place to air anti-Leicester views likely to upset other members. She snapped back, ‘So it’s your way or the highway,’ and that I sounded like a one-sided person she was going to ban from her Facebook. She didn’t, of course. She wanted to carry on arguing. Fine by me. Normally, I’d pre-emptively block someone like this to stop them noseying on my public page, but this time I was curious to see which happened first: her being kicked out by an exasperated admin or flouncing out of her own accord – after telling us how horrible we all were and that it was All Our Fault, of course. Mature adults don’t feel the need to do this; they simply withdraw from situations they find unacceptable, with dignity intact, and without drawing the attention trolls crave – even the negative, ‘don’t let the door hit your arse on your way out’ type of attention their trumpeted proclamations inevitably attract. (Or maybe they just smugly imagine the group duly chastised, red-faced and tearful at their departure). Which brings me to:

  • Keep your Temper.

Nothing is more annoying to a troll. Dreadful drama-llamas, they need you to lose it to feed their sense of outrage, so they’ll keep prodding, poking and provoking, dissecting your every sentence, accusing you of the faults/rudeness they exhibit, trying to put you in the wrong, make you lose your cool. They want to trade insults, lead you down rabbit-holes of self-justification, because it’s what they know best; they never learned how to argue constructively, compromise, agree to differ. Don’t take the bait. Resist if you will, calmly and reasonably. Be relentlessly nice, agree, be grateful, (think Wendy Byrde, if you ever watch Ozark on Netflix). You don’t have to work to score points, just pay out the rope then sit back and enjoy as they tie themselves in knots and hang themselves. But remember that ultimately, reasoning with trolls is pointless – they never listen, and they’ll never change without the therapy they’ll never seek because it’s never their fault and there’s nothing wrong with them. Which is kind of darkly funny if you think about it, so…

  • Keep Your Sense of Humour

Trolls don’t have one; they take themselves terribly seriously and expect everyone else to do the same. Which means anyone with any sense of irony, or ability to laugh at themselves, has a massive advantage. For instance, I’m completely un-insultable because a. there’s nothing anyone can call me that I haven’t called myself (and worse); b. I have a realistic sense of self-worth combined with a keen sense of my own ridiculousness/minute significance in the grand scheme of things; c. I’ll own it if someone calls me smug, superior, judgemental or arrogant (although to paraphrase my favourite, magnificently snooty surgeon in Casualty decades ago, ‘It’s not arrogance when you’re right’); and d. while I care very much for the good opinion of my family, friends, customers, and audiences, I’m secure enough not to give a flying eff what rude, obnoxious strangers think of me.

Now, a cardinal rule of sounding off in public is, ‘know what you’re talking about.’ But this troll opined that, failing York, Richard III should have been reburied in ‘Middleham or Fothringham.’ Getting the name of Richard’s birthplace/burial place of his father (Fotheringhay) wrong isn’t the kind of slip any informed Ricardian would make; it’s engraved in our psyche, like the date of the battle of Bosworth. So I pounced. ‘Where’s Fothringham?’ I know it was naughty, but I couldn’t help myself. Some wag’s reply, ‘Isn’t he one of Lord Snooty’s friends?’ made me spit my tea. She called me smart-arse. I was pleased to agree, being guilty as charged, (more letters after my name than in it). I also greatly enjoyed an exchange between the troll and a fellow un-insultable she tried to call immature; other responses, while less jocular, were deliciously pithy, altogether a pleasure to read. I almost felt sorry when, shortly afterwards, Flounce Out was pipped at the post by Exasperated Admin and the drama ended – if not my preoccupation with it, and desire to share the delights of troll-tickling with you.

The beauty of this sport is that it enables you to sit comfortably on the high ground, win wars effortlessly, and make trolls look totally foolish – simply by behaving like a civilised grown-up! The concepts will already be familiar if you’re naturally assertive/emotionally intelligent, (or like me, had to go on courses and read lots of self-help books), or if you’ve been trained to deal with angry, difficult people at work. You can even view troll-tickling metaphysically as a battle between angels and demons, Good and Evil, the Higher and Lower Selves – whatever, it’s a darn sight more fun than letting the dysfunctional drag you down into their mire.

For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion – I assume you wanted it, or you wouldn’t still be reading – forcefully expressed, heavily seasoned with rancour and a good dollop of sour criticism, hopefully leavened somewhat with humour. But hey – the clue’s in the blog name and ranting’s my game, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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.

Richard III: Reburial Plans

So it won’t be at York Minster, or a state funeral at Westminster Abbey as many people wanted; but make no mistake, this is a very big deal in Leicestershire. Richard III’s re-interment will last a full week, starting on Sunday 22nd March when he travels to Fenn Lane Farm, near the site of his death, for a private ceremony in which a casket made by his collateral descendant Michael Ibsen and containing soils from Fotheringhay, Middleham and Bosworth will be laid with his coffin. Accompanied by a guard of honour, he will then travel via Dadlington and Sutton Cheney to the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre where the Bishop of Leicester will lead a ceremony followed by a ripple gun salute and the lighting of a beacon. His cortege will then go to Market Bosworth for a short ceremony, progress at walking pace through Newbold Vernon and Desford, and continue to Leicester past a cascade of 5929 white roses at the Bosworth Academy (representing the number of missing persons in Leicestershire in 2014, just as Richard himself was ‘missing’ for so long). At Bow Bridge, he will be met by the City and Lord Mayors, be placed upon a horse-drawn carriage, and process to the Cathedral escorted by mounted police in full ceremonial regalia. Various services will be carried out as he lies in repose from Monday to Wednesday while visitors pay their respects; on Thursday he will be lowered into his final resting-place; and on Friday 27th, there will be a service of reveal of the tomb and a thanksgiving for his life in the Cathedral Quarter, culminating in a volley of fireworks from the Cathedral roof – not to mention all the other services, exhibitions, tours, lectures and special events scheduled in Leicester, York and elsewhere over the coming weeks.

Reading about these plans gave me a lump in the throat. Bells will peal. People will flock in their droves, in some cases travelling thousands of miles, to be part of this. The televised proceedings will be watched by millions more, all round the world. Altogether, it’s a lovely big ‘yah boo sucks’ to haters who say he should’ve been chucked back in the hole in the car-park, and seems to me a fitting and thoughtful way to lay our king to rest.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Some people believe that the initial procession along Richard’s probable route back from Bosworth Field amounts to a calculated insult and humiliation, which raises an interesting question: can the dead be humiliated? I’d say not – that any ‘humiliation’ exists only in the eyes of a few beholders. Richard didn’t feel humiliated in his last moments; he was too busy ‘fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies’ and screaming in fury about treason. What remains of his physical body doesn’t care one whit; neither does his soul, which has transcended far beyond such earthly feelings. (At least, I sincerely hope so – otherwise it implies an eternity like Mount Olympus, full of squabbling spirits still prey to the gamut of human emotions). Besides, this time he will ride in the privacy of his coffin, blessed by clergy, honourably escorted and witnessed by thousands – millions, if you count TV viewers – it couldn’t be more different to his ignominious return in 1485.

The whole proceedings have also been derided as a money-grubbing circus devised by venal politicians who don’t give a damn about Richard or history in general, as long as it makes Leicester a buck. Well, I don’t know or care whether their personal interests lie in sport, culture or elsewhere – but I know about the realities of heritage management in local government, and consequently am not surprised or upset by the attitudes expressed. Of course Leicester made vigorous representation for Richard III to remain in the city where (as someone has observed) his body has become literally part of its fabric – it would have been a dereliction of duty if they hadn’t. Of course Sir Peter Soulsby has emphasised the economic and tourism benefits – he has to convince the constituency of council-tax payers who don’t give a damn about history either, and would rather all this time and money had been spent on care homes, education or mending the roads. And what local politician wouldn’t be delighted to have their city put under the global spotlight, its prospects and fortunes improved, as they juggle with their ever-shrinking budgets? They’re just people trying to do their jobs in a challenging environment – so good on ‘em, I say. I hope Leicestershire makes a bomb from King Richard’s presence (as no doubt York would have done) – and since, alas, I can’t be there, I’m looking forward to watching it all on TV!

Richard III in Leicester: A People’s Burial-place for a ‘People’s Prince’?

What follows may cut no ice with folk who believe that King Richard III should be buried elsewhere; but since exploring the locale, I’m convinced that St Martin’s Cathedral in Leicester is an appropriate, indeed special, place for him to lie.

It may lack the grandeur of York Minster, Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel at Windsor (and it also lacks their hefty admission fees); but unlike these places, St Martin’s actively wanted the honour of housing the king’s remains – and the area dedicated to him does not end with the new ambulatory being constructed to accommodate his tomb. The cathedral gardens have been newly landscaped and a sculpture ‘Towards Stillness’ installed; and whether or not the latter is to your taste, it is nonetheless a work commemorating Richard’s final charge, his death fighting bravely at Bosworth, and his chequered posthumous fate.

Immediately beyond, the bronze statue of Richard III by James Butler, relocated from nearby Castle Gardens, provides a link between St Martin’s and the new Visitor Centre which incorporates the king’s burial site in the lost church of Greyfriars, giving visitors a unique opportunity to pay their respects at both his new tomb and his original grave.

The environs in the heart of the medieval city are also more significant to Richard’s life and reign than I had hitherto realised, despite having lived in Leicester for three years. The area, known (then as now) as The Newarke, comprised a religious precinct adjoining Leicester Castle, where the king stayed shortly after his coronation in 1483. The religious and secular areas were separated by a wall pierced by two gateways: The Magazine, (so-called from its use as a Civil War weapons store), dating to c. 1410; and the Turret Gateway dating to 1423, which gave access to the north entrance of the castle’s inner bailey. Both still stand, and it is likely that Richard III passed through these portals on a number of occasions (the last being when his body was returned to Leicester from Bosworth). Also standing is the beautiful Norman church of St Mary de Castro which, as its name indicates, once lay within the castle walls; here, Richard’s father, Richard, Duke of York was knighted in 1426, and the king himself may have heard Mass before leaving for Bosworth. A short distance away, sadly lost apart from two arches in the basement of De Montfort University’s Hawthorne Building, was the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where his body is believed to have lain for three days prior to burial; the site of the Blue Boar Inn, where he lodged on his last night in Leicester; Bow Bridge, built in 1863 to replace the medieval bridge over which he rode out to battle and his body subsequently returned; and adjacent to the Cathedral, the fine half-timbered Guildhall which would have been a familiar sight to him in life. Cumulatively, this makes for a highly poignant ‘pilgrim trail’ for Ricardians, and arguably offers Richard III a far greater degree of prominence than he could receive among the myriad other cultural riches of York and London.

Leicester is also a great deal more accessible than these cities for many people, thanks to its position as England’s geographical centre, its position beside the M1 and its good rail links. This is particularly true for the millions living in the vast Birmingham conurbation and Midland towns and cities including Coventry and Northampton; but visiting is also substantially cheaper than a trip to London for those of us based in Yorkshire, and cheaper than a trip to York for residents of the south. Moreover, King Richard’s presence means that a provincial city will henceforth share some of the heritage tourism largesse already enjoyed by York and London, both of which have been firmly on the ‘tourist trail’ for many years.

This seems fair enough to me, as well as being apt for a king who, inasmuch as any noble of the period could be, was a ‘man of the people’. I believe that Richard III always sought to emulate the father he had lost at the age of eight and whose memory he must have been raised to revere. Richard of York was an able administrator who, as Lieutenant of France, showed himself as willing to heed and address the concerns of people in Normandy as he was to enforce Henry VI’s authority upon them; and who, during the Cade rebellion of 1450, allied himself firmly with the commons’ cause. Like his father, Richard married a Neville – Anne, the Earl of Warwick’s younger daughter – and, like his parents, seems to have enjoyed a close and probably faithful union. (His two acknowledged bastards, John and Katherine, both arrived in the years before his marriage; and as John Ashdown-Hill observes, prior to Anne’s death it was a matter of note when Richard ceased sharing her bed, implying that previously this had been his normal habit). He showed considerable skill in managing the offices and vast estates entrusted to him by Edward IV, practising ‘good lordship’ and administering justice fairly, even when this conflicted with his own tenants’ interests; and as king, he swore his coronation oath in English, outlawed forced benevolences and established a court of claims for indigents (among other reforms designed to benefit the common weal).

Would this ‘people’s prince’ therefore scorn to lie in the heart of his country, a day’s ride from his birthplace, in a cathedral the less well-off of his affinity can freely visit to pay their respects? I can’t claim to be Richard reincarnate, nor to have received spiritual messages from him regarding his desires, but on the whole I think not… I think as a progressive ruler who cared about a fair deal for ordinary folk, he might even be quietly pleased.

History Matters: Richard III: Bought and Sold?

‘Jocky of Norfolk be not too bold, For Dyckon thy master is bought and sold’.

So went a contemporary rhyme; and in the wake of the announcement that seats for Richard III’s re-interment are to be effectively sold for £2500 apiece by Leicester Cathedral, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s happening all over again. (Strictly speaking, ‘benefactors’ will be asked for a £2500 ‘donation’ to attend).

The news has, predictably, given rise to expressions of shock, dismay and disgust for reasons I can appreciate without necessarily sharing. Some of the people affronted believe that, as a devout man, this is not what the king himself would have wanted. I question this on two counts. Firstly, (an issue which has vexed me throughout the arguments of the past months whenever someone has claimed to be speaking for Richard III): no matter how well we might think we know him through exhaustive study of his life, we don’t. We can’t. The only mind one ever reliably knows is one’s own (and even that’s debatable). We might be able to predict the reactions of our nearest and dearest with varying degrees of accuracy, but we still can’t fully know them; we can never experience what it’s like to be inside their skin, looking out through their eyes and feeling their emotions; the best we can do is guess. How much less possible is it to guess right with someone more than half a millennium dead, who lived in a very different world and context to our own? Richard III was a nobleman of his time, typically concerned with wealth, power and advancement; so maybe he’s now snorting, “Pah! I’m a king! They should charge ten grand to see me at least.”

Secondly, while the ‘donations’ may seem distasteful for a house of worship, this is nothing new. The medieval Church didn’t balk at making money. It sold indulgences. It sold relics and pilgrim badges. It charged people for saying masses to speed the souls of their loved ones through purgatory (King Richard, like many of his contemporaries, forked out sizeable sums to various religious houses for this very purpose). And like it or not, churches need money. This is why York Minster (the rival choice to house the king’s remains) charges £15 for adult admission, St Paul’s in London charges £16.50, and Westminster Abbey a whopping £40 (all valid for 12 months’ visiting). Is this also thieving, extortionate and disgraceful? Or is it simple economic reality when you have an historic building to maintain at colossal expense?

For once, I’m not having a dig here, I’m just asking questions and making observations; nor am I outraged by the news from Leicester. At worst, I’m mildly irked. Yes, the seats are very expensive, making this highly elitist and excluding everyone who isn’t on the benefactors list and/or doesn’t have two-and-a-half grand to spare. BUT… there are many more people who would want to attend the re-interment than Leicester (or any) Cathedral has space for. So you could view this as an effective way of limiting demand and raising some valuable funds at the same time. After all, how else could places be allocated? By public lottery? As prizes in a ‘Who’s Done Most for Richard?’ competition? On a ‘first come, first served’ basis, with hundreds (thousands?) of people in sleeping bags queuing in the cathedral precincts? However it was done, it would cause upset to those who disagreed with the method, and disappointment to the majority who didn’t get in through the door.

Personally, I’m not disappointed, having resigned myself long ago to the knowledge that I didn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting into this service anyway. My only hope is that it’s televised – although I guess that too would be criticised as unseemly and exploitative in certain quarters…

Post-script: I see today that this seems like a storm in a teacup, brought about by misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Cathedral’s actual plans. According to a communication sent by Peter Hobson to JoeAnn Ricca, CEO of the Richard III Foundation, Inc., seats will not be sold at all; instead invitations will be sent to benefactors and a wide cross-section of the community.

Richard III, Leicester and THAT tomb…

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!

The Wars of the Roses Refought over Richard III’s Re-burial

As anyone watching the news, reading the press or visiting social forums will know, the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car-park in Leicester last year has sparked a war of words as bitterly waged as any medieval battle. Practically from the moment his skeleton was unearthed, the tides of invective began to flow. An early target was Philippa Langley, a long-standing member of the Richard III Society whose years of research, lobbying and fund-raising had enabled the excavation project to go ahead in the first place. ‘Only in it to big herself up and get on TV,’ sniffed some folk of Ms Langley’s painstaking historical detective work. Hmm… is that the rank whiff of sour grapes I smell? Me, I think she deserves a medal for her efforts and the contribution she’s made to Ricardian history.

Worse was to come when the vexed question of where to re-inter the king’s remains arose. The poor Dean of York and President of the Richard III Society received abusive communications from the pro-York camp simply for trying to take a neutral, objective stance on the issue. The Chief Executive of the American Richard III Foundation was derided for her passionate advocacy of York because ‘what’s it got to do with Yanks, anyway?’ The Richard III Society was accused of Machiavellian plotting, cover-ups and withholding information from members. The motives of many individuals concerned with the project, including the Mayor of Leicester, were publicly impugned in such terms that it’s a wonder nobody ended up in court for slander or libel. Venom has dripped from the pages of Facebook and sundry news sites. Altogether, it hasn’t been pretty – and frankly, I’m amazed I’ve escaped the vitriol after some of the stuff I’ve blogged on here.

But now, at last, someone has effectively presented the case for a York re-burial. Yes – in the latest Ricardian Bulletin, (journal of the Richard III Society), David Johnson lays out the reasoning in a well-researched, eloquent letter mercifully free from the inaccuracies and hysterical over-statements that have bedevilled the arguments of some other York supporters.

I might challenge his statement that there is an ‘overwhelming public view that Richard should be laid to rest in [York] Minster’. It depends on the public you’re asking. The Plantagenet Alliance’s on-line petition for a Parliamentary debate on the matter closed with 31,260 names – almost 70,000 short of the 100,000 it needed; another petition for a York re-burial closed with 31,340 names – I’d call that distinctly under-whelming. Meanwhile a rival petition for Richard III to remain in Leicester has 33,247 signatories with three days left yet to run… so I think it’s fairer to say that public opinion is divided.

Otherwise, David Johnson’s letter is highly persuasive. It draws on the Privy Seal Register and Fabric Rolls of York Minster to argue that Richard III’s intention to found a college for 100 chantry priests, with six altars erected within the Minster for their use, parallels his brother Edward IV’s creation of St George’s Chapel at Windsor, and for the same reason – to make a new royal mausoleum. That the sources contain no mention of a tomb, or plans for a chapel to house a tomb, can be explained by the fact that the project was still in its infancy at the time of King Richard’s death.

It’s the best justification I’ve yet seen, and Johnson may well be right that if Richard III had lived out his full span, he would have expected to lie in York Minster. However, one problem is that it still doesn’t prove this was the case; we’re still second-guessing the intentions of someone who died over 500 years ago. And what might those intentions have been on the eve of Bosworth? Richard had the advantage, the ordnance and the larger army of home-grown soldiers to pit against Henry Tudor’s Welshmen and foreigners. I assume he expected to win, kill his rival and hang on to his crown; but it would seem strange if a soldier so experienced in the uncertain fortunes of war hadn’t at least considered the alternatives: that the battle might be indecisive, leaving them both alive to re-group and continue the campaign; or that he would himself die, if not on the field then later, as a defeated captive.

What then of his posthumous fate? Could he trust a new regime to honour his last wishes, if he made them explicit – or to take spiteful pleasure in thwarting them? To what degree, under those circumstances, did Richard III actually care what became of his body, beyond a conventional hope that it would lie in consecrated ground rather than in a mass pit on the battlefield? If he made a will, or issued any form of instruction, it either has not survived or has not yet been found. If he did not, what does that say about his state of mind – that he was sublimely over-confident of victory? That he didn’t want to ‘tempt fate’? Or that if he could not live as King of England, he was not greatly concerned about anything else?

David Johnson ends his letter by saying, ‘one assertion we can make with absolute certainty is that Richard III never chose to be buried in Leicester’. Or can we? It may not have been a positive choice, but one by default; he may have assumed that, in the event of his death, he would end up in a nearby village churchyard (like Lord Dacre of Gilsland, killed at Towton and buried in Saxton) – or in the nearest major settlement to Bosworth…

Of course, I don’t know – but the point is, nobody knows, conjecture as we will. The only things I am certain of is that the battle for Richard III will go on, ironically fought by larger armies than he or any other king could have commanded at the time; and that whether the decision goes with Leicester Cathedral or York Minster, I’ll be shedding no tears (except a few for Richard himself) – I’m just too pleased that he’s going to get a proper tomb somewhere, at last.