Wakefield Platinum Jubilee Time Capsule: A Sneak Preview of My Contribution!

In June, thanks to our chum Dr Keith Souter of the Friends of Sandal Castle, I was given a fantastic opportunity: to deposit some of my work in Wakefield’s Time Capsule, placed into the well at Sandal Castle to celebrate a unique national occasion, the Platinum Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II. This was particularly exciting for me since the castle is our local monument, allegedly a favourite home of Richard, Duke of York, (father of my favourite king, Richard III), who died at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 (subject of two of my non-fiction publications). I was duly proud to donate six books including the Wakefield histories, a ‘biographette’ (due to appear on my website home page), and the piece below in case you’re not around in fifty years and would like to read it now!

The Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, unveils the blue plaque to remind people there’s a Time Capsule down the nearby well!

Helen Cox, aka Helen Doggett, aka Rae Andrew/Rae Paxton

Hello! Do you read me? I hope so, because it’ll mean that despite the mess the world’s in as I write on 8th June 2022, humanity’s still hanging in there… and that even if the ice-caps have melted and you’re among Wakefield’s survivors living in a rebuilt Sandal Castle, standing proud above acres of water, you’ve managed to haul this time-capsule out of the well and take a peek back fifty years.

Unless I’ve been bitten by a vampire or stumbled on the key to longevity, (in which case I’ll be eleventy-one, like Bilbo Baggins minus the One Ring), I doubt very much I’ll be among you – which makes this an odd, uniquely poignant piece to write. Obviously, all writers would like to think that their words will live on after them, being read and enjoyed by generations to come; I now have the privilege of knowing that even if all my other works are long lost in obscurity, some people in 2072 will read (the covers at least!) of the little gift here enclosed with my love and best wishes. And while writers may keep a hopeful eye on posterity, we normally work in the here-and-now, for living contemporaries, rather than for a posthumous audience of people currently either young or as yet unborn… though my soul will be thrilled if that audience includes anyone – perhaps our great-nieces – who read and enjoyed Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat as a child, or came to any of my talks, guided walks, or Wars of the Roses events here with Towton Battlefield Society’s  Frei Compagnie, the re-enactment group Hubcap and I founded in 2007.

Above: Battle of Wakefield Commemorations back when today’s Castle Café used to be a Visitor Centre: me and Hubcap (far right and left) with friends, and me holding forth on a guided tour of Sandal Castle. If the present building still exists, the perspective of the castle on its window was painted by current Frei Co secretary and renowned fantasy/gaming artist Wayne Reynolds – just thought I’d bask in a little of his reflected glory!

If you are still with us, I hope you’re living in a cleaner, safer, wiser, kinder, saner world than I am today. One of the great frustrations for any historian is the truth of George Santayana’s statement, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ 561 years after Richard, Duke of York led his troops from this castle to slaughter at the Battle of Wakefield, nations and individuals are still ruled by the same power-hunger, greed, self-interest, and ruthless ambition that characterised politics in the 15th century (as they had for centuries before, probably ever since humankind gave up hunting and gathering in favour of accumulating land and possessions). Sadly, it seems that very few people remember, or learn anything from, even the most recent past. We’re still living through the biggest pandemic since World War I Spanish ‘flu, the one that locked the world down for months only two years ago, when everyone started saying, ‘Oh, isn’t it lovely and quiet, listen to the birds, see how beautiful the sky looks without con-trails, we must keep things this way etc etc’ – but of course now we’re back to the ‘new normal’ with people jetting off abroad willy-nilly, congregating in large numbers, driving ten miles to buy fast food or franchise coffee, (then chucking the rubbish out of the window as they speed home, backfires exploding), hardly anyone bothering with masks any more, even on public transport, just as if it had never happened – and still dying by the hundreds per day, vaccinations notwithstanding.

Is it still part of your lives, I wonder? Has it turned into one of those annoying things people take for granted, like the common cold, (‘I’m having a couple of days off work, got a touch of COVID’), or is it still fatal like ‘flu and pneumonia can be? And is the climate still in such crisis? I can’t report on today’s situation because I can’t bear to know; if I paid any attention to the horrifying statistics, the news about wild fires, floods, rainforests burned for palm oil etc, I probably wouldn’t still be around to write this, I’d have overdosed myself out long ago. Some things are improving though, especially since lockdown when people had more time to notice and get upset about plastic pollution and littering, for example. Helped by the Council’s brilliant StreetScene initiative, we now have a lovely social network of hundreds of volunteers all round Wakefield, who go out solo or in groups to litter-pick and clean up fly-tipping day in, day out, year-round. But I hope it no longer exists by 2072 because it’s no longer needed, because EVERYONE has finally grasped the basic social responsibilities of minimising waste and disposing of it properly. However, I do hope that junior members have picked up the torch and that Kettlethorpe Nature Action Group is still alive and knagging on nature’s behalf. Thanks to semi-retirement, we could make KNAG our contribution to lockdown life, a Facebook group founded by Hubcap in January 2021 to help local flora and fauna in any/every way – improving our woodland walks, cleaning up harmful litter, donating and fitting swift-boxes to provide homes for an endangered species luckily still flourishing here, helping neighbours create wildlife gardens, and generally trying to make this a cleaner, safer place for all residents, human and animal. I hope we succeeded in leaving you the legacy of a Kettlethorpe Community Nature Reserve to enjoy, as I hope the thousand or so trees we’ve planted to date around the estate (that’s Hubcap below, helping plant our bit of the White Rose Forest), have grown up into nice little woodlands, and that the two wildlife ponds the Council dug this year near Kettlethorpe Lake are still there, looking as if they have been forever, full of frogs, toads and newts. Maybe we even achieved our bigger dream of integrating our neck of the woods into a wider ecological landscape, a protected Calder Nature Corridor embracing Newmillerdam, Kettlethorpe, Pugneys, Seckar Wood and all our other wonderful local wild areas. That’d be nice.

To close with a few words of such wisdom as I’ve gleaned in my 61 years: life is the only thing that matters; the only thing any of us truly possess yet can only rely on keeping from one heartbeat to the next. So take good care of yourself and of your loved ones, of your pets, and the birds and bees in your garden, and of all living things, and above all, take good care of Mother Earth herself… then maybe there’ll still be people around to open YOUR time-capsule in 2122.

Love and light to you all from this little blast from the past,

Helen

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: 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.