Now that it has been confirmed that the skeletal remains found underneath a parking lot in Leicester, England are indeed those of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, at last he can be laid to rest in a place and manner befitting a king. His advocates, the Riccardians, have been uncharacteristically divided in the past few months over the burial: should Richard have a grand state funeral and be laid to rest in Westminster Cathedral, or remain in Leicester, or be interred at York Minster, which he himself might have desired? I took note of more than one newspaper British headline that read Bones of Contention, but in the end Leicester won out, so Richard’s bones will not have to travel very far.
I’ve already posted about Richard and the discovery of his bones, so today I have some rather random thoughts about reactions to their verification. My first thought upon hearing the news was for Josephine Tey, who wrote the 1951 historical detective novel (one of the first of its genre?) Daughter of Time about a twentieth-century detective’s efforts to untangle the Tudor mythology of Richard’s life and death. This little book definitely sparked my own interest in history when I first read it in my teens, and I’ve seen it have the same effect on countless students and friends. Though the recovery of Richard’s remains sheds little light on his life deeds and misdeeds, he is forever linked with historical curiosity for me.
The cover of the first edition of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, 1951.
And that really is the key point. Curiosity, and engagement, are fostered by uncertainty about the past more so than any presentation of supposedly well-established “facts”. It’s been so exciting to see historians, scientists, and the general public engage with each other over the discovery of the remains of a long-dead king, and a short-lived and unpopular one at that. This engagement might not be palpable here in the United States (where I heard a succession of broadcasters take great pains to point out that this was Richard III, not Richard the Lionheart) but it sure was coming over loud and clear on my Twitter feed (along with a lot of bad jokes: a hearse, a hearse, my kingdom for a hearse!).
The other thing I have noticed (watching from afar) is the very personal, even intimate, nature of this entire revealing. The Riccardians have always taken Richard’s demonization very personally, so that is no surprise, but the sight of his curved spine (but no withered arm!) and cleaved skull is a verification not only of his existence, but his suffering. On the other hand, I found the images of the facial reconstruction released yesterday a little off-putting, though it’s interesting to read comments of how handsome he was: not a monster, after all.
Scenes from the big reveal: University of Leicester archeologists Richard Buckley and Jo Appleby discussing the archeological and DNA evidence, Richard’s curved spine, the results of scoliosis, the facial reconstruction, and a late 16th century portrait of Richard III, Getty Images & the National Portrait Gallery London.
And so now Richard will be laid to rest (again). I’m sure there will be a lot more discussion about the ceremony for his re-interment (will the Royal Family attend?), but it sounds like David Monteith, the Canon Chancellor of Leicester Cathedral, has already given this a great deal of thought: he announced that an ecumenical service of remembrance is being planned for our time, as the King had most certainly received a proper Christian burial in his.
Cathedral and Guildhall, Leicester.