Rarer than an eclipse – the funeral and burial of a king

Today, the coffin of King Richard III left the University of Leicester for Leicester Cathedral where it will lie until it is buried on Thursday. Since the bones were discovered under a car park in Leicester in 2012 they have been the subject of a good deal of controversy. In 1485 Richard lost the Battle of Bosworth to the man who would become Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch. At the same time he also lost his reputation as writers of the Tudor period (including Shakespeare) presented him as a wicked, hunch-backed king, a monarch who deserved to lose his throne.

The bones of English monarchs have been reinterred in the past, often to make a political point (they could be reburied in a more or less prestigious place); however, there’s usually not a 500 year gap between burials. Richard’s first burial was an obscure and irreverent one but this time around everyone wanted him and the cities of Leicester (near the battlefield at Bosworth) and York (the home of the king’s family) claimed him. Another quirk of the half-millenium gap is that the bones are being interred in an Anglican cathedral whereas the king had, of necessity, been a Roman Catholic, and perhaps a fairly pious one. Wisely, the Christian churches avoided squabbling over Richard’s remains and ministers of both denominations will have input into the final ceremonies. In the meantime, any internet search will provide you with video footage of one of the most unusual royal funerals in British history (Queen Elizabeth will not be attending, although she has sent a message to be read out), one in which even the mounted, armoured knights accompanying the hearse do not seem out-of-place: Richard’s fate was to live as much in story as in fact.

BBC coverage

Syllabus link: Shakespeare’s Richard III is part of the MA course ‘The Others: Outsiders and Malcontents in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature’.

Richard III
Richard III
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