The 530 year funeral

I'm currently re-reading Cynthia Harnett's The writing on the hearth, I read and reviewed it not that long ago, so am not going to re-review it here, but I am going to tell you why I was prompted to re-read it. Writing on the hearth is set towards the beginning of what would become known as the Wars of the Roses, and last Sunday I was in Market Bosworth, a small town in Leicestershire, cheering King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King, on his way to his re-burial in Leicester Cathedral.

I've been a bit of a fan of Richard since I was a small child. Even as a kid I found it hard to believe that anyone could be quite as black as he was painted by Shakespeare. Reading Josephine Tey's The daughter of time convinced me that what you think you may know about history isn't always necessarily correct. The quote used in the title, is taken from Sir Francis Bacon "Truth is the daughter of time, not authority" meaning, I guess, that often time is important in revealing the truth, as those who live in the present can mask the truth surrounding events.

Like many Richard afficionados, and anyone who enjoys a good detective story, I was thrilled by the events of August 2012, when archaeologists from the University of Leicester began their dig in an unprepossessing council car park. If the entrance to Tutankhamen's tomb was found under a spoil heap, I suppose it shouldn't really surprise us that a king can end up under a car park, but the fact that Richard had managed to end up buried under the R for reserved in the car park must have endeared him to just about everyone in the UK. It seems so gloriously and Britishly eccentric. Tests shortly followed - confirming some legends, disproving others, a distant relative was found whose DNA matched (Michael Ibsen would go on to make Richard's coffin) confirming that the body in the car park was indeed Richard III.

St. Peter's Church, Market Bosworth
After a wrangle between York and Leicester as to where Richard should be permanently buried, Leicester won the day, and this morning Richard was reburied in Leicester Cathedral, formerly a parish church, and which uses some of the stonework of Greyfriars where Richard was buried, prior to it being dissolved during Henry VIII's time.

Crowds getting ready for Richard
A slight case of confusion.
A fish and chip selling crusader
Market Bosworth had prepared well for Richard's brief visit. An army of youngsters had been organized, and arranged car-parking in the country park on the outskirts of the town with military precision. On arrival you were directed into the town, people in wheelchairs were helped across the ridge and furrow fields, little changed from medieval times, while the half-muffled peal ringing out from St. Peter's church drew everyone to the centre, just as it would have in Richard's day.

Charity stalls lined the streets selling mugs and t-shirts; shops, pubs and churches had flung their doors open for use of their facilities; while you could learn how to do hedging, archery or nine-men's morris from a variety of stalls. It was all very English, rather dotty and eccentric, but incredibly endearing. There was a palpable feel of excitement as we waited for Richard to arrive. Children were thrust to the front to get a good view, strangers chatted to each other, policemen were offered a drink, and cocker spaniels (Market Bosworth must be the cocker spaniel capital of the UK) were everywhere.

Many people had got into the occasion in a big way and were wearing historic dress. There was some confusion as to exactly which historic dress to wear, so medieval merchants rubbed shoulders with refugees from nativity plays, and a crusader advertising a local fish and chip emporium chatted to a Georgian milkmaid, but this all added to the charm of the event.

The little girl balanced on her father's shoulders behind me made everyone laugh. "I want to see King Richard" she moaned, after a bit of a wait, "I want to see King Richard's bo-------nes". Finally it was nearly time, a medieval honour party - the household of Sir John Savile marched by, it was nearly time.

Everyone had been issued with an order of service, and eventually, slightly delayed on his journey, the King arrived and stopped briefly in the market square where the leaders of several local churches took part in prayers. 

King Richard III en route to Leicester
And then the hearse sped through on its way to Leicester. At this point there was just a "crown" made out of hedging materials on the coffin, presumably a reminder of how Richard's crown was lost at the Battle of Bosworth only to be found in a Leicestershire hedge and handed to Henry VII. People cheered, applauded, threw white roses, and then it was back home summoned this time by the bells of St. Peter's in full cry.

The sign of the white boar. Homeward bound as Richard heads to his re-burial in Leicester Cathedral
It was a great day. A day when society felt as though it came together in celebration of a life, and as the epilogue to a now largely forgotten war that had been so brutally divisive, what could be more appropriate?

Comments

Margaret Jones said…
Lots of information on the service at http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/35520#comment-3327947
Clare Chase said…
So interesting to read this post, Margaret. It must have been quite something to be there.

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