- This post represents my personal opinion on the subject of the reburial of Richard III. I am not representing anyone, any organisation or any institution in this post, I am simply expressing my own personal opinion.
- My opinion is often based on the understanding I have gained from having worked with Leicester’s archaeology for 8 years and actually having worked with the team that excavated at Grey Friars. However, make no mistake, this is still only my own personal opinion.
- I’ve only caved in to writing this post because I have been keeping up a little with the coverage and online discussion about the reburial of King Richard III’s remains and I can’t believe how disappointed I am that this fantastic archaeological discovery seems to have brought the worst out in some people. I’ve seen people randomly slagging off Leicester, the archaeologists in the team, basically anything they can think of in the name of ‘respecting Richard’s wishes’. I find it quite sad, a little upsetting, but most of all it inspires me to want to put forward my own arguments to show that this matter can be discussed without resorting to name calling and pigtail pulling.
OK, everyone got that? My opinion. Also, it’s worth noting that my opinion is completely immaterial as all the relevant authorities have been consulted and all are in agreement that Leicester Cathedral is the appropriate and respectful place for the re-internment of the remains. So this is essentially a purely theoretical piece of writing, or alternatively, just one that helps to explain why this decision has been taken, in my opinion.
So, in no particular order, let’s address some of the main points that are doing the rounds:
King Richard III expressed a direct wish to be buried in York Minster and therefore we should respect his wishes.
Quite simply, no. Richard planned to build a chapel extension on to York Minster to act as house to 100 chantry priests. Chantry priests prayed for the souls of the deceased, a sort of after-death insurance policy to keep God sweet. There is no evidence that he intended to be buried there himself, indeed he left no surviving will which categorically defines his wishes.
The common practice of archaeology, which most people have no heard about, is to rebury the remains of exhumed skeletons in consecrated ground near to where they were originally discovered. This is in the main because it is considered to be most respectful to acquiesce to the status quo of the history that has come before us and not to try to second guess the wishes of the deceased. For example, unnamed burials excavated in Leicester are usually reburied at Gilroes, because it is local and it is a multi-faith cemetery so we are making no assumptions about the wishes of the deceased. After all, there is no way of telling that the relatives, or whoever buried the person originally were respecting their wishes.
So back to Richard. If we are to break this cardinal rule of not assuming the wishes of a person who has been dead for over 500 years, then I would suggest that we infer his thoughts from his actions. One of the last things Richard III did was to take the field at Bosworth against Henry Tudor. Admittedly, the historical sources suggest he was eager for the conflict, to take out the upstart and have his rebellion ended once and for all. But I think it is safe to say, as someone who had seen his father, elder brother and countless others killed over the course of the Wars of the Roses, he also knew there was a chance that he would be killed. I think it is safe to say that Richard knew that if he was killed, Henry Tudor would become king and would be responsible for disposing of Richard’s remains as he saw fit.
Which is precisely what happened. Richard III was buried in Leicester as a direct consequence of choosing to engage in the Battle of Bosworth. Had being buried in York Minster been his all consuming raison d’etre, perhaps he would have high tailed it away from danger, or perhaps accepted the offer of a horse to escape the battlefield.
Wait, wouldn’t Richard have been a Catholic? And Leicester Cathedral is CofE, right?
Indeed, Richard was a Catholic – it was Henry Tudor’s son, Henry VIII that invented the Church of England, over 60 years after Richard’s death. However, my understanding of the situation is that Richard was considered the head of the Church in England and that institution continues today as the Church of England, so it is appropriate that he be buried in their building. After all, Richard was originally buried practically in the shadow of St Martins (now the Cathedral), so there is a clear continuity.
Happily, the Bishop of Nottingham, the Catholic counterpart to the CofE Bishop of Leicester is fully engaged with the reburial process so I understand the reburial will take place with the blessing of, and rites appropriate to, both religions.
Richard should be buried with his beloved wife, Anne Neville, in Westminster Abbey.
Couple of reasons I don’t agree with this. Firstly, Westminster Abbey have expressed no desire for the remains to be entrusted to their care. Secondly, at the time of his death, the historical sources are quite clear that Richard was trying to line up a new wife in order to secure an heir for himself. Had he lived, he would have taken a new wife and they would have perhaps been buried together. Which nicely illustrates the danger of playing theoretical parlour games with history. What if, what is? It doesn’t matter, it didn’t happen.
Yes, Anne Neville was carefully buried by her husband in Westminster Abbey, but in an unmarked grave next to the High Altar. Squeezing Richard in to share this unmarked space would surely not be appropriate to his status, appropriate to the historic nature of the building.
Furthermore, Westminster Abbey is full. George II was buried there in 1760 and ever since, royalty has mainly been buried at Windsor. Who is going to pay for a new wing to be built on this historic building, to inter a long-dead monarch, in a move that is, essentially, an attempt to rewrite history? Indeed, is there any part of the Abbey that could be knocked through to allow for an additional wing? I very much doubt it, this is one of Britain’s most iconic buildings.
But Richard III had a special connection with York, so he should go there.
Indeed, that Richard had a place in his heart for York is undeniable. But no more so than other places in the country. If you look at the King’s progress round the country during his short reign it is clear that he visited and stayed at London and Nottingham as much, if not more than he visited York. By this argument, Nottingham would have as much as a claim as anyone to the remains, but they make no claim because they recognize that best professional practice is being executed.
Perhaps if the City of York had decided to send more than one messenger in response to Richard’s summons to arms, the outcome of Bosworth would have been different?
York Minster certainly acknowledges the special connection to Richard III, but they have also issued an official statement to agree that Leicester Cathedral is the appropriate spot for the reburial. Finally, I think that this discovery is something good and interesting for everyone in England – after all Richard was King of England. I would prefer that he is reburied in Leicester Cathedral, where a monument has stood to his memory for some decades now, and we can all visit to pay our respects, rather than paying a £9 per adult admittance charge as we would be doing in York. I have been to York many times, but I have never been inside the Minster because the entrance charges are prohibitive.
Leicester has a special connection with Richard III.
I haven’t really seen many people raising it, but it is an undeniable truth that Richard III’s final days are a Leicester narrative as well as national one. Leicester has enjoyed over half a millenia of being home to the remains to King Richard III. In that time, Richard has been remembered and respected – in 1612, for example, the father of Sir Christopher Wren recorded visiting the Herrick family and being shown the memorial stone pillar put up to memorialise the spot of the burial of Richard, ‘sometime King of England’. I find it amazing that knowledge of the location of the burial had survived the Reformation at all.
Since then, Leicester folklore surrounding Richard III has flourished. The great tale that an old Leicester woman predicted as Richard left over Bow Bridge that his head would strike the same stone on his return that his spur hit on the way out is considered to be archetypal local witch ‘Black Annis’. Thyere are a huge amount of myths surrounding the bed that Richard had brought from Nottingham Castle to sleep in at his night at the Blue Boar Inn (then, supposedly the White Boar, prior to a hasty name change after the Battle). A stash of gold coins supposedly fell out of the bed, centuries after Richard’s departure. Sections of the bed are still thought to exist, as common as Buddha’s teeth, around the City and County, with one 17th century example being on display in the current exhibition and another postulated example on display at Donington Le Heath.
We also have our barmy lore that has now been totally debunked once and for all, the pervasive, but unfounded myth that his body was exhumed and thrown into the River Soar at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, or the story of the stone trough outside a local inn that was Richard’s coffin. That last one did the round since the 17th century and the bits of the coffin got gradually smaller and less impressive over time!
So the closing chapter of Richard’s life is part of Leicester heritage and has always been embraced by the people of Leicester. Take away the remains of the King and what becomes of King Richard Road, the Richard III pub, his statue and the Richard III Primary School, supposedly the only school in the country to bear such a name? He has been built into Leicester’s culture for over 500 years and this history can not be lightly tossed aside because the remains have been located. One of our local Blue Badge Guildes has been doing Richard III themed guided walks of the City for decades – celebrating Richard III in Leicester is not a new thing.
I think I’ve covered most of the main points. The rest of the arguments I’ve seen seem to just be of the nature that Richard III shouldn’t be buried in Leicester because Leicester isn’t very nice, because the Mayor just wants to exploit the opportunity to make money, and shockingly I have seen some people citing Leicester’s cultural diversity as a reason for why an English King shouldn’t be buried here.
I can’t even express how sad the racist comments make me and I shan’t even bother to address them, because you all know how ridiculous that is. However, I can stand up against the other points. It’s worth noting that the media that have come to Leicester in the last week or so have been stringing this story out, so each day, they come with set questions along a specific theme.
One day, for example, all anyone asked me about was the supposed York vs Leicester battle, which I happily told them was a media fiction. So, if the Mayor has come across at one time as only talking about the potential economic benefits to the city of this opportunity, then I can tell you now what you have seen is footage from the day that all the journalists wanted to know about was the potential economic benefits to the City. On that day, I was expecting to be interviewed about the content of the Richard III exhibition at Leicester Guildhall, but instead I had to help one journalist get in touch with a representative of Leicester Shire Promotions, because they wanted to know how many tourists the city was expecting, not what the exhibition was about.
And as for Leicester not being a ‘fitting’ city, (to the people saying Richard should be buried in York because of its medieval heritage, of course Leicester has a strong medieval tradition, we were the place where the last medieval king was buried!) and “why would anyone want to visit Leicester anyway”, well those nay sayers couldn’t be more wrong. Leicester is not perfect, but neither is it a bad place to live or visit. Here are just a few edited highlights of what Leicester has going for it:
- One of the tallest Roman civil structures in the country, the Jewry Wall, is in Leicester city centre. A great Roman monument attached to a lovely museum of Leicester’s archaeology
- Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival – happening as we speak, this is one of the country’s longest running Comedy Festivals and is considered one of the best in the world by some, including the Guardian.
- Our Diwali celebration is one of the biggest outside of the Indian subcontinent. Every year, tens of thousands of people get together on Belgrave Road to celebrate the Festival of Light.
- Fantastic museum collections – New Walk Museum, for example, houses the best collection of Egyptian Antiquities in the region and a world class collection of German Expressionist art as well as hosting exhibits from national institutions such as the British Museum, the Tate and the National Portrait Gallery.
- Great shopping – Leicester’s Lanes and small arcades are crammed with some great tiny, independent stores and cafes. I particularly love St Martin’s Square, with Rockaboom for records and gig tickets and the Original Cookware Company for awesome kitchenalia. There are now loads of vintage shops in the tiny arcades too, which I highly recommend.
- Great food – try East Midland’s own tiny chain of French restaurants, Le Bistrot Pierre for a top feed, or of course sample one of our hundreds of authentic, reasonably priced Indian restaurants (although I’d steer away from over priced Mem Saab if I were you!)
- Beautiful parks – Abbey Park for example, is gorgeous and home to the remains of Leicester Abbey, the burial place of another medieval celebrity, Cardinal Wolsey.
- And there’s tonne’s more. One of the finest timber framed buildings in the country (the Guildhall), the home of one of the key figures of the Arts and Crafts movement, Ernest Gimson and what I believe is the last Secular Hall in the country (or the oldest?). A great rugby team, a great cricket team and a mediocre football team. Two cracking universities. Engelbert Humperdink.
What more could you want?
That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.