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King’s burial debate raised from the dead
THE discovery of a man’s remains beneath a car park in Leicester has ignited an increased interest in the life of King Richard III of England who has very close links with this region.
He is associated with Middleham, Sheriff Hutton and York.
Richard, called “a poisonous hunchbacked toad” by William Shakespeare, was killed on August, 22, 1485, aged 32 during the Battle of Bosworth Field near Leicester.
This marked the end of the Wars of the Roses between Yorkists and Lancastrians. It was Shakespeare who also attributed to Richard several famous quotations including ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ and ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious by this sun of York’.
What happened to his remains has long been a mystery with one story being that his remains were thrown into the River Soar near Leicester but it seems his body was stripped naked and he was flung across the back of a horse, then carried into Leicester for burial.
This was a means of proving the death of the king who, it is claimed, was highly unpopular because he was blamed, among other things, for executing his young nephews, widely known as The Princes in the Tower.
This was the infamous Tower of London and it was claimed Richard arranged the boys’ murders so that he could inherit the throne of England.
Expert examination of the evidence suggests that that claim is inconclusive, as indeed are other derogatory stories about Richard III.
It has long been suggested by academics that these were nothing more than Tudor propaganda designed to falsely blacken his name.
Claims that he was an evil hunchback with a withered arm may be false and it seems that many have accepted as true various statements that are in fact fictitious versions of Richard’s life. Shakespeare, among others, has a lot to answer for.
So how is such a widely known historic character associated with the discovery of a man’s remains under a modern social services car park in Leicester?
It is known that Richard’s remains were not thrown into the River Soar but were taken for burial in the choir of the Catholic Church of Grey Friars at Leicester, one of the monasteries later dissolved by Henry VIII.
With its dissolution and subsequent demolition, then re-use of its site for other purposes, the grave of King Richard III was obliterated and forgotten – but not by everyone.
The Richard III Society has long cherished and fought for the rehabilitation of Richard III whose members consider him much maligned. They persuaded archaeologists from Leicester University to search for Richard’s grave on the site of that former monastery, now a car park in Leicester.
Much to the amazement of everyone, the search recently uncovered the body of a man lying beneath what had been the former monastery church.
As I compile these notes, the identity of the deceased has not been confirmed but it appears to be that of a man suffering from scoliosis – curvature of the spine – albeit in a minor form.
There is an arrow in his back which cleaved part of the skull, and the remains are those of a man of high status who clearly was accustomed to wealth. Early examination of the remains suggests they were those of a very active and strong man despite his minor disability.
As I write, it will require more research and DNA tests before identity can be confirmed.
However, if the remains are those of King Richard III, the former Duke of York, where should they be reburied?
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II does not wish them to be buried at either Windsor Castle or Westminster Abbey, so should either York Minster (where Richard had planned to build a chantry chapel) or Leicester Cathedral be considered?
What must be remembered is that Richard was a Catholic and so his burial should be with a Requiem Mass in the Latin rite – but would this be acceptable in a major Anglican church? Should Richard’s beliefs be considered? Or should a Yorkshire Catholic church be selected?
Richard III spent a lot of time at Middleham Castle and it was here that Richard’s only son, Edward, the Prince of Wales, was born but he died in 1484 at the age of only eight.
Prince Edward’s funeral occurred at Sheriff Hutton church, then Catholic, where a somewhat indistinct alabaster figure is supposed to represent him. This village has further regal associations.
There is no doubt that Richard III, who reigned for only about two years, favoured York upon which he bestowed many favours and when his brother Edward died in 1483, he ensured that a solemn Requiem Mass was performed in his honour at the then Catholic York Minster.
I wonder what verses Shakespeare might have written from this recent story?