Issues Surrounding the 21st Century Funeral of Richard III

by JoHarrington

On March 26th 2015, the burial of a Medieval king will mark one of the most unlikely and unique set of circumstances in history. What should you be watching out for here?

Without the context, the 21st century burial of a Medieval king must seem like a quirky, but nevertheless meaningless item on the news.

After all, Richard III has been dead since 1485, so his skeletal re-emergence now can hardly be relevant in the modern world. His sphere of influence died with him at Bosworth. Or did it?

For the movers and shakers in Britain today, the discovery of King Richard's remains may be viewed as an inconvenience at best. Powerful people might smile and go through the motions, but you can bet that many wish him firmly back in the ground with the car-park tarmac undisturbed above him.

This fuss is an embarrassment with the potential to erupt in unwelcome debates, which may shift the status quo in unforetold ways.

Medieval Richard III's modern day funeral brings two wildly distinct ages clashing discordantly together. It's perhaps as close as we'll ever get to witnessing a time warp televised live to the nation.

Polite smiles upon the faces of the Powers That Be will mask their hope, that it's all spectacle enough to make it all just go away without a hitch. The sooner he's buried, and his grave reduced to the status of yet another British historical attraction, the better.

With all the context, historians are watching in utter fascination. Richard III's funeral has plenty of relevance in the 21st century.

The Trouble with Finding Richard III

King Richard's presence in the 21st century effectively tears up over half a millennium of established history, politics and culture in dozens of minute ways.

In Britain, the Middle Ages ended with the death of King Richard III on Bosworth Battlefield. From the moment Henry Tudor claimed his crown, the historical era switched to Post-Medieval.

So where do I file this article on Wizzley?  In the Middle Ages, along with all else that's been written about Richard and his times?  Or in Modern History, as that's when his funeral takes place?  No reader looking for the Plantagenet monarchs is going to be anywhere near the 21st century. It could get missed if I plonk this page there.

But describing 2015 in the Medieval section is an anachronism.

On-line writers and book store owners all over the world are facing the same issue. Whatever! It doesn't matter much in the vast scheme of things. The world won't end, if we jump the wrong way. We haven't got a huge budget riding on the outcome.

The same cannot be said down in the West Country. There a film crew are working on the second tranche of dramatizations for The Hollow Crown series.

Commissioned in 2010, these full length televised stagings of Shakespeare's history plays were afforded a vast budget. They were envisaged as an important cornerstone of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad celebrations of all that it is to be British. The nation's greatest actors are brought together, even tiny cameos are played with finesse and the best talent that the country can offer.

So the last thing that anyone there wanted to see was the sudden mass rehabilitation of Richard III's reputation, sparked by interest arisen by the discovery of his remains. Not when the very last installment in those Shakespearean plays is the very one to have effectively trashed his reputation in the first place.

Richard III is pretty much universally seen now as Tudor propaganda, a tainted play which leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

How will the British public react, when that world famous play is suddenly spotlighted with great fanfare on their television screens?  How will international audiences receive it, when the rights get sold worldwide? 

It's all downright awkward.  Even more so with money and national showcasing involved.  Directors and financiers alike must be hoping that the soft spot for Richard ceases as soon as he's planted safely under Leicester Cathedral.

To be on the safe side, a full year has been left between the 2015 funeral and the 2016 airing of The Hollow Crown: Richard III, plus they've cast Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.

These same considerations beset the Royal Shakespeare Company and any other Shakespearean theater group, for whom Richard III has long been a staple part of the schedule.

In London's West End, Cumberbatch's Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman has been cast in the title role for a run of Richard III.  Not exactly the obvious choice for such a villainous part, but then neither is Richard III anymore.

The historical truths emerging (not from anywhere hidden, just finally getting their moment in the popular spotlight) about King Richard III are surely annoying actors and directors alike. They just want to get on with the business of staging fabulous speeches in as sinister a light as possible. The status quo works very well for them, while the alternative is downright dangerous.

Ricardian accounts frequently show Shakespeare himself as little more than the Goebbels of the Tudor regime. Not exactly wonderful publicity for the whole Shakespearean industry, upon which rests a vast segment of the British tourism trade.

Cultural executives might be forgiven for being quite angry with historians who, until now, could be relied upon to churn out books and opinion pieces fully supporting the 'evil Richard' stance.

But such scholars have their own issues in the popular wake of 'maligned Richard' viewpoints.

People like Desmond Seward have been forced to rewrite their own works. Once lauded by the New York Times as 'well written', his Richard III: England's Black Legend saw its Amazon rating plummet and the comment section filled with amateur historians tearing his 'facts' apart.

The latter were right by the way. The Shakespearean/Tudor notion of a villainous Richard doesn't stand up to historical scrutiny of the actual evidence. Despite Henry Tudor's documentation purge, some survived. Enough to glimpse the reality beyond.

Nor has it been a case of simply rewriting history to arrive at a rehabilitation for Richard in time for his funeral. Those facts were always known. They were aired by contemporary commentators, and frequently repeated throughout the intervening centuries.

It's just that popular culture and powerful people alike both had stakes in maintaining the Tudor propaganda. So repetition sold. It kept the veneer intact.

Now the rug has been pulled from under the former, undermining the whole market. Finally real history can have its day.

History Books about Richard III

Until recently, any author or academic portraying him in a good - or even human - light were dismissed as 'Ricardians', like THEY were too biased to be trusted.

The Royal Issue with Richard III's Rediscovery

Britain's royal family have been put in a very embarrassing position by the King Under the Car Park, not to mention the state funeral to follow.

When the remains of Anastasia Romanov were thought to have been found, Prince Philip donated a sample of his DNA to clarify the issue. Yet not one member of the British royal family offered the same for Richard III. Nor were they asked.

Queen Elizabeth II is not directly related to Richard III. She owes her crown to Henry Tudor, and his right of conquest claimed on Bosworth Battlefield.

Royalty rests upon the tradition of an unbroken line stretching back into antiquity. But the publicity surrounding Richard's demise - and modern funeral - shines a spotlight onto the fact that the current royal dynasty can claim just over 500 years.

This is Britain. There are people with things older than that stuffed in the back of our cupboards. We can certainly hold grudges that stretch back further than a mere 500 years.

Moreover, researchers had to follow a genealogical trace all the way across the globe into Canada, in order to secure genetic proof that these remains were indeed those of Richard III.

Splashed across repeated headlines was the fact that a monarch today could be a foreign cabinet maker tomorrow. Just add a bloody usurpation, then sprinkle on a few centuries for the Wheel of Fortune to turn, toppling the elite into the quite ordinary.

Not a great message for the British royal family, who have wisely kept very quiet on the matter. Even while under pressure from letter-writing Yorkshire school-children.

Some sectors of British media have embarked upon a blurring of historical fact, which favors the present Queen's position. Like the Daily Mail, which invented a Richard VII to be the father of Edward IV (a position traditionally held by Richard, Duke of York), then immediately left him out of the list sitting right alongside it. This one had Richard III at the top, and insinuated that his sister-in-law was really his daughter.

The fudged result certainly seems like Queen Elizabeth is a direct descendent of King Richard III.

Image: Daily Mail (27th Feb 2014)
Image: Daily Mail (27th Feb 2014)

The British royal family are old hands at riding storms like this one has the potential to become. Yet there is a very narrow line to tread here.

Regardless of the result at Bosworth, Richard III was once the nation's king. Tudor political expediency chucked him in an out of the way grave. However, the Windsors are much more securely entrenched upon their throne than their ancestor Henry VII. So now the issue is setting a precedent in respect for regal remains, and that one is downright thorny.

It means a state funeral at the very least. Which suggests that at least one member of the royal family should be in attendance. (My money is on Richard, Duke of Gloucester - the Medieval monarch's own namesake and a modern day royal Ricardian.) Buckingham Palace should be organizing it!

But too much involvement and they run the risk of someone saying, "Hold on! Didn't your ancestors kill him in the first place? AND organize the smear campaign which has dogged his reputation all these years?!"  Too little input and it's a snub.

Hence the light touch bids of Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle - both locations where British monarchs tend to be interred - to receive Richard's remains. His wife is in the former, while his kingly brother went into the latter. Richard almost certainly expected that his own final resting place would be beside Anne Neville in Westminster.

Yet the requests from both to receive King Richard's remains now were instantly turned down and neither appealed. Government office part played. Token gesture done.

People barely even noticed it happen, as the full distraction drama played out between Leicester and York, with a succession of commoners conspiring to take over proceedings.

Portrayed in the media as clowns or worse - people making a fuss and poking their noses in where it doesn't deserve attention - we are directed to feel disdain for any Ricardian (some of them foreign!) attempting to take his part.

Tax payers' money was being wasted on such court cases. Just because they were members of Richard's own family, why should they have a say over where he was buried?  It's not like they were close. They're only descendents.

And we haven't even touched upon the truly tricky issue. The Queen is the head of the Church of England, a religion created by her Tudor antecedents.

Richard III was a devout Catholic.

True Histories of Richard III

Two books and a DVD documentary about Richard III as he really lived, breathed and died, then was dug up again.

The Religious Debate about Richard III's Funeral

Respect sounds a little rich, when Leicester still bears a plaque stating that Richard III's remains are lost, thought dumped by the Tudors into the River Soar.

Nobody blinked in April 1984, when it was announced that human remains recovered from the Tudor flagship Mary Rose would be given a Catholic burial.

Though interred in the Anglican Portsmouth Cathedral, it was the Catholic Canon Peter Doyle who led the ceremony.

Great pains were taken to locate the exact Sarum Rite Requiem Mass, which a sailor who drowned in 1545 might once have expected to have recited at his funeral. It was only respectful not to impose modern day religious mores upon a 16th century man, even if the burial took place on July 19th 1984.

Of course, he was only a lowly sailor and not a King of England. Such respect categorically should not be afforded to Richard III, not if a member of today's royal family will also be in attendance.

This is one of the most shocking aspects concerning the funeral arrangements for Richard III. He was no hatch, match and dispatch Catholic. All surviving evidence points to a man who was genuinely devout in his faith. He not only made bequests to several religious institutions, but caused the building of many more. He kept his own private and regularly attended Mass.

When he was in charge of family funerals, they were all conducted according to the high Catholic ritual of the time. On the morning of Bosworth, he and his entire army knelt to hear a Catholic Mass for their own well-being and safety.

Yet Richard's funeral will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury - the highest ranking Anglican clergyman in the country - within the Church of England consecrated Leicester Cathedral.

Lots of words like 'honor', 'befitting', 'dignified' and 'royal' get used. None of which highlight precisely which royal is being thus honored. This deeply unsettling mismatch between religious denominations has caused comment from several corners, not least the Richard III Society, whose persistence uncovered the royal remains in the first place.

At one point, it was dismissed as regretful, but no-one had a copy of the reburial rites contemporary to Richard's time.  A historian duly spent months in the archives, searching tirelessly, and eventually found the precise ritual needed. It was ignored.

The Anglican Church, like petulant children, refused point blank to give up their prize.

Richard WILL be buried according to the rites of the Church founded by his usurper's son - in order that said Tudor monarch might legally get his leg over his mistress - because the present queen is the Head of the Church of England and GOD DAMN IT her family WON AT BOSWORTH!

But just to shut everyone up, there will be a welcome service a few days before, wherein the sermon will be preached by Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

21st Century Plans for the State Funeral of Richard III

The Bishop of Leicester promised us 'dignity' for King Richard III's funeral arrangements. Let's see how that pans out then.

On March 22nd 2015, King Richard's funeral cortege will leave the University of Leicester.

It will travel to Fenn Lane Farm, which is currently believed to be the location of the Battle of Bosworth.

Having reminded Richard's ghost and the watching public that he lost, the procession will then move on to St James's Parish Church in Dadlington and Sutton Cheney. 

Before this Anglican edifice, the television commentary will no doubt tell us that Richard was thought to have attended a service there on the eve of Bosworth.

Of course, it was Catholic at the time, though the display board now proclaims it Church of England.

Thence the cortege will travel to the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre - built on the spot which we used to think was the battle site - where it will be met by the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester.

He is the man responsible for Richard III's funeral arrangements and he will conduct a 'dignified' Anglican ceremony here to honor the monarch. (Viewers should note this wonderful Leicestershire historical tourist attraction associated with Richard III. I've been several times and it is indeed lovely.)

The hearse will then follow the exact route along which it is assumed Richard III was conveyed back in 1485. Wherein he sustained many posthumous injuries from Tudor soldiers and passers-by anxious to align themselves as supporters of the prevailing regime. Let's hope that no-one rushes the hearse to knife him in the rear this time, nor bangs his head on the bridge over the River Soar.

Once at that traditional entrance into the City of Leicester, his body will be formally greeted by the Mayor and other politicians, before being conveyed on a horse-drawn carriage on a circuitous route towards Leicester Cathedral.

There responsibility for his remains will be legally transferred from the University to the Church, and King Richard will be laid in state. That's when the Catholics get to ninja in, so to hold a service according to Richard's own faith.

For four days, the general public will be allowed to file in and pay their respects. Then, on March 26th 2015, the actual funeral takes place under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Beyond which most members of the establishment are probably hoping his specter goes away, as it's causing untold chaos returning into the public eye like this. Expect plentiful showings of Shakespeare's Richard III in the aftermath, to help ensure that the villainous Richard motif supplants the maligned one in the public eye.

Casting Benedict Cumberbatch should lock home such sentiments. Then we can all go back to normal.

Shakespeare's Richard III: Tudor Propaganda Done Brilliantly!

More Context for Richard III and his Reign

It was known at the time as the Cousins War. The family tree grew very tangled between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
Two young royal boys disappeared in the Tower of London. But before we can speculate on the mystery, we need to know the history.
It's an enduring Medieval mystery, which has intrigued historians for centuries. But what is really known about the disappearance of the boy king Edward V and his little brother?
Ask anyone with a passing interest who killed the Princes in the Tower. The likely answer is that it was Richard III. But did he do it?
Updated: 01/12/2015, JoHarrington
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Veronica on 06/14/2015

You raise some excellent points and I for one was disappointed that Richard did not have a Catholic burial and also that members of the Royal family were notably absent.

With regards to the Princes in the Tower, Richard had no need to have them killed. He had already had them declared illegitimate.

A local legend to here though, NW England is that at about the time that the princes disappeared, two young boys of noble birth came to live with Sir Francis Lovell, Lord Longdendale and close friend of Richard 111. These boys were brought up as his own sons. Even if Richard had had these 2 princes killed, they had several other siblings to take their place. I feel it is unlikely that Richard is behind their disappearance.

JoHarrington on 12/01/2014

The Tudor propaganda is still holding sooooo well. I've delved so deeply into that history and I honestly can't see why he'd kill the Princes in the Tower. It makes no sense whatsoever.

JoHarrington on 11/07/2014

Hear hear on all counts. :)

frankbeswick on 11/05/2014

As for crusades, what John Paul said was significant. When George Bush called the Iraq war a crusade, nearly igniting the Muslim world in fury, John Paul 2 declared, "There is only one person on earth who can call a crusade, and I am he. I have never called one and never will."

I don't want Richard the Lionheart back, either as a legend or through reincarnation. We can do without the legend, and if reincarnated he is quite likely to be an armed robber.

JoHarrington on 11/05/2014

Richard will come back next time Britain feels like its religious might needs a boost. We've lost our appetite for Crusades, that's all.

frankbeswick on 11/04/2014

Arthur and Alfred! You are right about the flipping back and forth. We have these kings, real men, who have taken the status of myths. Godwinson, the last true Saxon king of England. Maybe he should be the third in the trio. At least we have lost interest in that thug Richard the Lionheart, who spent but ten months in England in his ten year reign.

JoHarrington on 11/04/2014

Ember - This is precisely the sort of thing which I have hours of fun doing. Historians are basically people who love a good story, then going off on adventures.

JoHarrington on 11/04/2014

Brenda - Frank called it. It's all about looking at old maps and contemporary accounts, plus attempting to follow the story of both the ruins and the grave though later accounts. It was pain-staking work which paid dividends.

JoHarrington on 11/04/2014

Frank - I think that Harold would be a much safer proposition insofar as British culture is concerned. He's not been demonized in a Shakespeare play for a start. Even better to find him during an Alfred the Great phase (Britain flip-flops back and forth between Arthur and Alfred).

JoHarrington on 11/04/2014

Ali - You are completely right. *blush* May I just plead insanity and quietly correct it? Thanks for having my back here. :)

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