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, 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!

Please: Richard of Gloucester, not York!

Descendants of King Richard III have just won a fight to have the vexed question of where his remains should be reburied (Leicester or York) examined in a full judicial review.

I’m happy about this – it means the issue will be examined in great depth, both sides will have chance to state their case, and at some point a decision will be made (although whichever way it goes, one thing’s for sure – the outcome won’t please everyone. I’ll be pleased, though, either way; I’m just glad that the last great Plantagenet warrior king has been found, and can finally be buried with appropriate honour).

What I’m hopping mad about is a silly item on BBC Look North last night. ‘He was Richard of York in life,’ blithered the reporter introducing the King’s descendants’ passionate campaign to have him buried in York Minster. No, he wasn’t – he was Richard of Gloucester – Richard, Duke of York, was his father.

Then Vanessa Roe, one of the descendants, claimed that ‘his wife came from here’. No, she didn’t – Anne Neville was born at Warwick Castle. And ‘his son was born and died here and is buried in York’. Pah! Nonsense like this makes me spit. Richard’s son Edward was invested as Prince of Wales in York, but he was born and died at Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire; (his common title, ‘Edward of Middleham’, is a bit of a give-away on this one); and as far as I’m aware, his burial site is not certainly known, although many people believe (probably incorrectly) that his tomb is in the church at Sheriff Hutton.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be delighted if King Richard was buried in York – if partly from pure selfishness, because it’s closer for me to visit – but I’d like it to be for real, concrete reasons rather than spurious ones. I’m not convinced that there’s conclusive proof of his intention to be buried in the Minster, despite his plans to found a major chantry chapel there; he may have envisaged it at the start of his reign, but after Queen Anne’s burial at Westminster Abbey in 1485, I’d be surprised if he didn’t expect to lie beside her, and many fellow monarchs, one day. However, I can accept the descendants’ argument that Yorkshire was Richard’s spiritual as well as his physical home; he unquestionably spent much of his life in these parts, as a youth at Middleham, as Lord of the North and as King, and carried out many acts of patronage and other works in the area. These include the founding of a college at the Church of St Mary and St Akelda in Middleham; paying for repairs to the lost Chapel of St Mary at Towton, along with masses to be said in perpetuity for the souls of the battle dead and his own family; and having improvements made at Sandal Castle near Wakefield, (close to the sites where his father and brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed in battle in 1460), which he may have intended to use as a political base.

So leaving the fallacies aside, there is a good case for bringing Richard III back to Yorkshire, a county where he had many demonstrable links. But there is no good case for people, however committed to the cause they might be, to make inaccurate claims in the media – it just looks hysterical, ignorant and over-emotional, and undermines the credibility of their arguments. I trust that none of this tosh will make it into the judicial review… and in the meantime, I wish the campaigners to bring King Richard ‘home’ would get their facts straight before they go on TV.