I’ll get this off my chest right from the start.
Richard III was killed near Leicester, unceremoniously humiliated after death, then thrown naked across a horse and publicly brought into Leicester, where the Franciscans, bless their hearts, gave him a proper funeral, but not a royal one.
He was known as ‘Richard of York’ and his most faithful followers lived there. In his will, he states specifically that he wishes to be buried in York.
He tried hard to make peace in the country after the War of the Roses but he did not feel that being buried in York would inflame passions.
So he has been buried in Leicester. Of course. Think what that will do for the economy of the city and the prestige of the Cathedral.
I will admit that were it not for Leicester University funding the dig requested by Philippa Langley his body may well have never been found. But that is as far as I will go.
And a State Funeral? No way. Of course it was fine for Mrs.Thatcher who was only a Prime Minister, but not for our last Plantagenet King.
So he was given a lying in state, of sorts not in Westminster Cathedral or Westminster Hall, nor in York Minster, in all its glory, which would have been the most fitting, but in a provincial church elevated to the status of Cathedral in 1927. However, he had a procession to Leicester Cathedral, witnessed by a crowd of 35,000, escorted by two knights in full armour on horse back.
(Photo from http://kingrichardinleicester.com)
But, to me and other people around me, it fell far short of what was proper in the circumstances.
Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to go and walk past his coffin to pay my respects to the remains of a King of ours who reigned, briefly, over 500 years ago and who has been the recipient of some of the vilest political spin the Medieval period could manufacture.
A Volunteer came up and said we would be unlikely to get in that day, especially as the Cathedral was closing for an hour and a half at lunchtime: a fact I knew but had factored for.
All authorities, National, Local and Ecclesiastical, had completely misunderstood the feelings of their people: there were folks who had travelled the length and breadth of the country, as well as from Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and USA. Elderly people, middle-aged people, children taken out of school because their schools would/could not arrange a trip, but not so many young people who had to work during the day – those who could came with babies in pushchairs, brought so that their parents could tell them that when they were small they saw the coffin of our last Plantagenet King.
After an hour of waiting, the Cathedral decided not to close at lunchtime fearing a riot: they were correct. The Council were hurriedly printing off leaflets to hand out, wet from the press, having previously thought that they had enough for the whole three days and they had only lasted for three hours. Now I gather that the Cathedral has extended its opening hours into the evening as well to cater for people in work during the day.
Near us in the queue everyone was very good humoured but steadily determined: the people of Britain had come and were not going to be denied. If ever evidence was needed that the gulf between populace and rulers, of all kinds, is now enormous, this was a day which exemplified it. And people were not pleased that this felt like a kind of ‘hole in the corner’ burial. What kind of communication exists between our Executive and the people?
This was made by Richard’s 17th great-grandnephew Michael Ibsen, of English oak, and contains a rosary (since the country was Roman Catholic at the time) and soil from three locations: Fotheringhay where the king was born, Middleham Castle in Yorkshire where he grew up, and the Bosworth field where he died.
There was no time to stop, we had to keep on walking so that everyone had a chance to enter.
The Pall was beautiful, made of black velvet, and embroidered with images of his life and unearthing in the Leicester Council Car Park,
and is adorned with a gold-plated crown, designed by John Ashdown Hill, set with enamelled white roses, garnets, sapphires and pearls.
(Photo from http://www.johnashdownhill.com/johns-blog/2014/4/19/the-crown-of-king-richard-iii: he designed the crown.)
The atmosphere was reverent and dignified and all present felt that they were contained in a moment of national history.
We then went to visit his statue and to see the place where his body was found: this latter is in the care of the Visitor Centre, where, due to unexpected numbers of visitors (!), one could only enter on a timed ticket.
The place where he had been buried originally had been too small for him so he could not be laid out straight but with his head skewed: his feet had gone, removed by earlier building works, and his head had been only 9 mm away from an excavating shovel a few years ago. So, serendipity seems to have accompanied this find all the way through.
Then onto a train for home, and to wash, iron and pack for Paris: leaving very early the next day. Ironing and packing at midnight.
Another short night. But so worth it.