Richard III: Bound by Loyalty?

What do you do if someone you love marries someone you think is, at best, deeply unsuitable, or at worst, deeply despicable?

The only answer, if you want to remain close to your loved one, is to put your feelings aside for their sake, and try to develop civilised relations with your unwelcome in-laws – especially if said loved one is an absolute monarch, and their unsuitable spouse your new queen.

Such was the situation in which the 12-year-old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, found himself in 1464, when news broke that his eldest brother, King Edward IV, had secretly married a Lancastrian widow, Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville). While other, older members of his family (with good reason) openly opposed the match, Richard was apparently wise, tactful, or perhaps simply devoted enough to Edward to keep his own counsel – history records no evidence of hostility between Gloucester and his Woodville in-laws prior to 1483, whereas his kinsman and erstwhile tutor Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was killed in rebellion against the king in 1471, and his elder brother George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason (possibly at the queen’s instigation) in 1478.

Richard’s unswerving support throughout Edward’s life is entirely consistent with the famous motto he adopted as an adult, Loyaulté me lie. Most commonly translated as ‘Loyalty binds me,’ this has an alternative and less well-known translation: ‘Justice rejoices me.’ (See Sutton & Visser-Fuchs, p. 271 – 74, for a fascinating discussion of Richard’s mottoes). Both meanings fit well with Richard’s documented interest in the law, and his attempts to emulate his revered late father Richard, Duke of York, in meriting high honour through the exercise of good lordship, fulfilment of obligations to superiors and inferiors, maintenance of the king’s peace, and dispensation of impartial justice.

Richard may well have known and used Loyaulte me lie earlier than 1483 in sources either lost or yet to be discovered, but its known survivals all date to the period from Edward IV’s death through to Richard’s own reign  – including its appearance, bracketed with his signature, on a scrap of paper also bearing the signatures of his nephew Edward V, and his then ally Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

To me, this casts another, far more sinister light on an innocuous phrase, akin to the undertones of ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’ in Game of Thrones. Loyalty might have bound Richard to Edward – but it had also bound his hands, rendering him incapable of acting against the Woodvilles unless and until his brother died. Richard’s actions after this unexpectedly occurred on 9th April 1483 suggest that he had always hated and distrusted the queen and her large, acquisitive family, and longed to take revenge for their presumption, the attendant loss of prestige to the House of York, and the execution of his brother Clarence; he may also have blamed his brother-in-law Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, in particular, for hastening Edward’s death by encouraging him in debauchery. Certainly, within a few months of the latter’s demise, Richard had arrested and subsequently executed both Rivers and Richard Grey, a nephew from the queen’s first marriage; attempted to capture another brother-in-law, Edward Woodville (Lord Scales); deposed one nephew, and possibly disposed of him too, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York.

So I find it hard to believe that Richard, a subtle and highly intelligent man, was not aware of, (and secretly amused by), the dark sub-text of his chosen motto – because clearly, the loyalty that bound him from April 1483 to the end of his life on 22nd August 1485 was not to his misbegotten nephew, the uncrowned Edward V. It was to the House of York and his own blood family, while the justice that rejoiced him was giving his rapacious in-laws their just desserts, and saving his country from the rule of an illegitimate Woodville king.

References: Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, Richard III’s Books, 1997, Sutton Publishing Ltd

Sandal Castle: Ruination of a Famous Ruin

dscn3857Sandal Castle near Wakefield is well-known to Wars of the Roses history buffs as a favourite residence of Richard, Duke of York, and close to the spot where he and his second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, met their deaths in battle in December 1460. This, along with its connections to Richard III and its use during the later English Civil War, make the castle a site of local and national heritage significance; and when I published my Wars of the Roses battlefield guidebook Walk Wakefield 1460 in 2011, the place was in fine fettle. Stout timber stairs across the moat and up the motte gave full access to the monument (a couple of years later, stairways down into the moat were added, giving spectacular views of the earthworks), and its Visitor Centre, containing displays on the castle’s history, plus space for educational activities, loos and a shop, was open every Wednesday to Sunday for four hours a day. The site looked tidy and well cared-for, and was a wonderful amenity for the dog-walkers, joggers, local families and visitors from farther afield who came to enjoy its beauty and unique atmosphere (not to mention the bracing winds that always seem to blow there).

Today it’s a very different, and depressing, story. Years of savage cuts to local authority budgets forced Wakefield Council to pare back staffing until the Visitor Centre finally had to close completely; then the stairways to the inner bailey and up the motte became structurally unsound and were blocked off in March this year, limiting permitted access to the perimeter of the monument only.

The consequences were sadly predictable. Lack of access for grounds maintenance means the inner monument is now so overgrown with bushes and weeds that it looks a right mess. Many visitors totally ignore the ‘No Entry’ and warning signs, (or view them as a challenge), and simply scramble or ride mountain bikes up and down the earthworks, damaging the grass and forming highly visible, unsightly tracks. With no staff to warn them off or call the police, they do this quite blatantly; the other day I witnessed several truanting schoolboys climb to the top of the motte, and a ‘carer’ (hah!) lead his special needs charge very deliberately up and down the sides of the moat (proving that some folk really don’t have the sense they were born with). The site has become a magnet for antisocial behaviour, a place for teenagers to congregate at night to booze (leaving their empties behind, of course), intimidate bona fide visitors, and spray their moronic graffiti – yes, recently the stonework was vandalised with purple paint, the work of local yobs well-known to police, who are now bragging about their exploits around the neighbourhood. Most dangerous of all, a group of young adults who should have known better drove a car around the site during the day, putting everyone else present with their children and dogs in danger, and leaving deep wheel ruts in the grass as a lasting trip hazard.

Am I angry? You bet. Who do I blame? Primarily the Government, for consistently starving local authorities of the money to provide essential services, let alone quality of life amenities like heritage (always a soft target at times of austerity). The site abusers: those who lack respect for themselves, for other people’s safety and enjoyment, and for our shared environment and history. (However, I can sympathise with locals whose Council Tax goes in part to pay for Sandal Castle’s upkeep and who are determined to continue accessing the whole site as they always have done, despite the blocked stairways). And for all that I understand Wakefield Council’s financial difficulties, I can’t help feeling frustrated by the flabby, short-sighted, ‘we can’t do that’ approach they seem to have taken, rather than energetically pursuing solutions to this problem. Where is the joined-up thinking? Where is the major public appeal to raise a relatively modest £175,000 to reinstate the walkways? Where is the regional tourism drive to capitalise on the unprecedented levels of national and international interest in the Wars of the Roses since the discovery of Richard III’s remains in 2012? And why is it now falling on unpaid members of the community to kick up a fuss and take action when there are senior and principal council officers receiving good salaries to address issues like this?!

Richard III and ‘King Power’!

Being totally uninterested in football, it’s not like me to wait on tenterhooks for a match result – but that’s what happened last night, and now I’m absolutely delighted that Leicester City have just become champions of the Premier League.

Five years ago, news that the football team of an obscure Midlands city had beaten the likes of Manchester United might have rated a few column inches outside the UK as a heart-warming ‘triumph of the underdog’ story. But today it’s splashed all over the international media, including the New York Times, and why? The answer is, rather bizarrely, ‘King Richard III.’ In the first place it’s because, thanks to the discovery and re-burial of his remains in the city centre, people all over the world know about Leicester and continue to be interested in what’s happening there; and in the second place because of the almost spooky about-face in the Foxes’ fortunes since they began playing under the ‘King Power’ banner (while, ironically, York City’s Minstermen languish at the bottom of the second league).

Divine proof that Richard III is a Leicester supporter? I wouldn’t go that far – Richard may well have shared his elder brother Edward’s conviction that football was a frivolous pastime which distracted young men from the far more important pursuit of practicing with the longbow. However, I can’t help thinking there is something in it – like morale. From being the footballing face of somewhere few people outside Britain or the international Ricardian community had ever heard of, the team was catapulted into the spotlight as representatives of a city made world-famous as the last resting place of England’s last warrior king – and by God, they’ve lived up to it. Positive psychology plays a big part in winning at sport, so perhaps naming their stadium ‘King Power’ and emblazoning the words, with a crown, on their shirts was inspired: a very visible way of dinning that sense of power and pride into the players, and supporters, every time they set foot on the field.

Of course, not everyone’s pleased; the usual suspects on social media are clucking and carping about exploitation and the horrible disrespect of hanging a Leicester City scarf round the neck of Richard’s statue beside the Cathedral. I find this sad, because it strikes me as quite the opposite: an affectionate, humorous gesture showing Richard being owned and embraced by the citizens, remembered, included and identified with their victory (and I think he looks cute in the scarf) – just as people everywhere are reminded of him every time they see an image of the King Power Stadium or the Foxes wearing those shirts. To me, it’s wonderfully positive publicity for British sport and British medieval history, a welcome antidote to all the sadness and horror of the regular news. What’s not to like? Yes, long may Leicester City’s King Power last – go, Foxes!

Richard III: History or Histrionics?

One of my pet hates is hysterical hyperbole, the sort of thing frequently indulged in by sports commentators – for instance, a tragedy is when somebody loses their life, not a ruddy football match.

So the other day I found myself unable to feel sorry for a person who, apparently, will carry the scars of recent experience to their grave. Now, I would have sympathised if the writer had been a Syrian refugee, or bereaved in the recent spate of mass shootings in America and France, or had endured any of the other myriad horrors that would justify someone claiming to be scarred for life; but the source of this individual’s trauma is – yes, you guessed it – the treatment of Richard III since the unearthing of his remains three years ago.

Oh, to live in a world where the worst thing that happened was the analysis of a 530-year-old skeleton, publication of the results, and a reburial in a location some folk don’t like! A world where no-one has to flee their home for fear of being raped, enslaved or murdered by a vile apocalyptic death-cult; where no children or animals are tortured and abused; where people suffering painful or distressing illnesses are allowed to die with dignity in their own homes at a time of their own choosing- I could go on, but you get my drift. Alas, that’s not our world – and given the terrible reality of so many people’s lives, I find Scarred Writer’s melodramatic self-indulgence utterly repellent.

Hang on, you might say. Everyone’s entitled to their emotional responses; if this person feels permanently scarred then scarred they indeed are. Yet there can be a fine line between the average, ‘normal’ response to a situation and a gross over-reaction which merits being treated with a metaphorical slap round the head and a crisp, ‘Get over yourself.’ Trust me on this – I speak as a recovered depressive who once had to be physically restrained by my then partner in a dispute over- um, ownership of a slice of toast (blushes). My feelings might have been very real to me at the time, but that doesn’t mean they were appropriate or proportionate to the circumstances – which I suggest is the case here.

This puts me firmly in Scarred Writer’s camp of half-hearted, patronising Ricardians – that is, anyone capable of taking a more moderate stance on events since 2012, or who dares to say that it’s time to move on rather than nurturing that grievance and whipping up yet another tedious war of words to spread and perpetuate ill-feeling within a small community of interest. Actually, I’d go further: I’m not half-hearted, I’m hard-hearted enough to be glad that Richard III’s physical being is now so intimately known, and that he has a nice tomb which isn’t prohibitively expensive for me to visit (as it would be in Westminster Abbey or York Minster). I’m also hard-headed enough to recognise that he would have been a hot commercial property wherever he was laid to rest, and to find nothing dismaying in a provincial city’s delight that they’re making a few quid from being catapulted onto the historical tourism map.

Yes, I care more about history than hysterics… which is why, if Scarred Writer represents the prevailing view within this particular Ricardian community, I shall quietly bow out of it. It isn’t an environment I wish to stay in… and somehow I doubt that they’ll miss me!

Richard, Duke of Gloucester: the Man Who Wouldn’t be King

Anti-Ricardians often partly justify their dislike of Richard III on account of his unattractive crown-hunger, claiming that he was always desperate to be king, spent his life plotting to this end and ruthlessly eliminating anyone who stood in his way, and cite as proof the prompt usurpation of his nephew Edward V in 1483.

I’ve always found this arrant nonsense. At the time of Richard’s birth in 1452, the throne was squarely occupied by the House of Lancaster; and while many people felt that his father Richard, Duke of York would make a better king than Henry VI, the Yorkist claim was not at this point being actively pursued. Moreover, having three healthy older brothers above him in the pecking order for titles, as a child Richard was but a minor princeling – and when Queen Margaret produced a Lancastrian Prince of Wales in 1453, neither he nor his brothers were remotely serious contenders for the crown.

The situation didn’t change until 1460, when Richard of York’s short-lived stint as heir-apparent raised young Dyckon to fifth in line to the throne. Then he edged a step closer when the Duke’s death at Wakefield was avenged at Towton in 1461 and his eldest brother confirmed as King Edward IV; but thereafter, his loyalty was absolute and his own best interests served by maintaining Edward’s position. I say this not as a ‘bride of St Richard’ who can believe no wrong of him, but because it doesn’t seem to square with the evidence. Think about it: their relationship made Richard of Gloucester the second most powerful magnate in the country, effectively king of the North, able to enjoy all the wealth and prestige without the dangers and burdens of wearing the crown. Edward was Richard’s protector and guarantor, his bulwark against Woodville ambitions; had he lived for another ten or twenty years, (by no means unlikely, given the robust health of their parents), his two sons would have been grown men with their own affinities, no doubt raised by their father to view their uncle as an indispensable political ally, and Richard would not have been king.

Ah, you say, but that didn’t happen – the black-hearted villain pinched his nephew’s crown practically before his brother’s body was cold! So he must have started planning his coup the moment he heard of Edward’s death – mustn’t he? Actually, no. Proceedings at the recent Richard III Foundation Inc. conference make it seem highly unlikely that Richard’s actions in the spring of 1483 were simply designed to lull the Woodvilles into a false sense of security while he laid his plans for usurpation. Susan Troxell, in her discussion of Richard’s heraldic emblem, showed the image of a gold angel naming Edward V as king and bearing a boar’s head mint-mark, dating it to the short period of the Protectorate. Surely issuing coinage is a step too far in terms of subterfuge; surely the implication is rather that Richard did indeed acknowledge his nephew as king, while simultaneously asserting his own intention to be firmly involved with the reign. Subsequently, he might have been satisfied with the role of Protector if he could have felt confident that the young king’s family would accept his pre-eminence. However, considering the dread fates of recent Protectors (Henry VI’s uncle Humphrey, the previous Duke of Gloucester, and his own father Richard), he had good reason to lack this confidence – especially as Professor Peter Hancock has now demonstrated, by an ingenious piece of historical detective work, that William Lord Hastings was not in London on 25th April 1483, but at his castle of Ashby where it seems likely that Richard met him as he travelled down from the north. There he would have received the unwelcome news that the Woodvilles thought they could rule very nicely without him – hence his precipitate actions in arresting Earl Rivers, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughn and securing the person of Edward V at Stoney Stratford on 30th April.

Taking these two pieces of evidence together, I think it’s safe to say that in the immediate aftermath of Edward IV’s death, Richard of Gloucester had no thought of taking the throne for himself; this idea did not develop until the emergence of the pre-contract story and the dawning realisation that, just like his father, he had no choice but to press his own claim to the throne if he wanted to safeguard himself and his family’s future.

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.

History Matters: Richard III, The New Evidence

Great! Thanks to further research on the skeleton of Richard III and experiments with a ‘body double’, it has been confirmed that the king could indeed have ridden a horse, worn armour and given battle (as if the historical record didn’t prove that). But Channel 4’s documentary Richard III: The New Evidence was very interesting and shed a good deal of light on Richard’s health and lifestyle as king – although it also contained a lot to annoy.

The programme centred around 27-year-old Dominic Smee, a lightly-built man with severe 80-degree scoliosis like Richard’s, and followed his training in medieval horsemanship and martial arts (for which he has considerable natural aptitude) to draw comparisons between what he could achieve and what Richard III could have done. The first thing to strike me was that it explains the documentary confusion regarding Richard’s appearance; while Dominic’s condition was obvious when he was wearing only shorts, it was barely perceptible when he was fully clothed and completely invisible in full armour (a suit custom-made to accommodate the twist in his torso and carry most of the weight on the shoulders rather than the waist, as King Richard’s presumably was); nor did he limp or display any other obvious signs of impairment. So it’s reasonable to assume that Richard III also looked ‘normal’, and accounts for why some commentators say his left shoulder was higher than his right, (as is Dominic’s), or vice versa.

So far so good – but the programme carried assumptions too far. One major omission was the lack of discussion of Dominic’s earlier lifestyle (apart from his hobby of medieval re-enactment), the onset of his condition/how it affected him, and whether he did or does sport. Similarly, it failed to say that until Richard III’s scoliosis manifested at puberty, he would have enjoyed the unimpeded activities of a young 15th century prince, including horse-riding, hunting and weapons training. He would have grown up fit and athletic, and subsequently maintained an active military career throughout his years as Duke of Gloucester – whereas Dominic trained as an IT teacher and is currently unemployed, hence has probably led a far more sedentary existence. Drawing too many direct comparisons between a man who trained for combat from boyhood and one who did not is therefore likely to be misleading.

Also irritating was the implication that kingship turned Richard III overnight into a booze-soaked glutton. Yes, isotope analysis shows that his consumption of wine, fish and meat increased markedly in his last three years; however, contemporary/near-contemporary images still show him as slim and narrow-faced, so he plainly did not gain weight from this diet! There was no mention of the change of expectations imposed by his transition from duke to king, the consequent requirements for formal banqueting and entertaining, or the famous quote from Sir Nicolaus von Poppelau, (who dined with Richard in 1484), to the effect that His Majesty was more interested in conversation than food. The demands of office would have left him with less time for training, so his fitness levels may well have somewhat declined – though they were still likely to have been in line with those of other noblemen.

Equally, it’s unrealistic to say that because he suffered from roundworm and spinal osteo-arthritis, Richard III’s health was poor and he was ‘unfit for battle’ at Bosworth. Lower hygiene standards meant that many 15th century people were infected with roundworm – hence their consumption of tansy, an effective treatment for infestation – and many also had arthritis, as a comparison with the Towton skeletons would have shown. So maybe his health wasn’t great by our standards – but these conditions represented a medieval norm, and Richard was probably healthier (and certainly better fed) than the majority of his subjects and the average soldier at Bosworth.

But to me, the silliest suggestion was that physical limitations imposed by his scoliosis were the driving force behind his cavalry charge – in other words, he knew he was too weak to withstand doing battle on foot. This ignores the evidence of his hawkish career: a veteran of Barnet and Tewkesbury, Richard opposed the treaty of Picquiny because he wanted to fight the French; led a campaign to recover Berwick from the Scots shortly before Edward IV’s death; and expressed to von Poppelau his desire to go on crusade. Maybe he felt he had more to prove than other men, but he was plainly up for a ruck – and after all, that’s what nobles of the period were for: to wage war, win glory and thereby extend their possessions and power. So I would be surprised if, pumped for adrenalin in the heat of battle, Richard gave his back or his lower levels of stamina a second thought. No – his charge was surely prompted by military opportunism: having spotted Henry Tudor relatively lightly-defended, here was his chance to win a decisive victory, maybe even to dispatch his hated rival with his own hand.

Overall, this programme judged Richard III far too much by modern standards. Ian Mortimer made several valiant attempts to pull things back to a 15th century perspective, but his efforts were over-ridden by the production team’s determination to show scoliosis and other medical conditions as the primary cause of the king’s death at Bosworth. So while Richard III: The New Evidence is worth watching, it should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt!