The most bizarre royal burial Britain's ever seen: Troops lining the streets and 21-gun salutes... for a king who died more than 500 years agohttp://www.dailymail.co.u...g-died-500-years-ago.html
Normally, you know where you are with a British royal event. There’s a certain predictability to our pomp and ceremony, a protocol for everything.
Whether the occasion is a wedding, a christening or a funeral, you can guarantee that there will be crowds, gun salutes, families schlepping down from Sunderland to camp out in The Mall and BBC commentators coming up with 36 different ways of saying, ‘Here comes a horse.’
But this one – the reburial of King Richard III, whose remains were famously found in a car park in Leicester in 2012 – is different. It may be a king’s funeral but it’s a king’s funeral more than half a millennium after the event. It is also the burial of a royal still described by the reigning family on their website as a ‘usurper’; a man who still divides opinion.
Richard, the last king of England from the House of York, was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire in 1485, the last big battle in the Wars of the Roses. He was buried without pomp and his tomb is thought to have been razed in the Reformation, his remains only turning up five centuries later.
His reputation as a deformed schemer was sealed in Shakespeare’s play Richard III. But was he really a ruthless murderer (he’s thought to have done away with his nephews Edward V, 12, and his nine-year-old brother Richard, the Princes in the Tower, to secure the throne for himself) or just misunderstood? That isn’t settled yet.
All in all, when it comes to laying a legend to rest we are in uncharted waters. And in Leicester, to boot – territory of the House of Lancaster. The saga of how we got here, from the car park to a courtroom tussle over who should ‘own’ Richard’s bones – York or Leicester – has all been a bit bonkers, let’s face it.
‘It is. You couldn’t make it up,’ says veteran newscaster Jon Snow, who’ll head the coverage of the reburial for Channel 4 – acres of it – starting with the funeral procession on 22 March and the reinterment service four days later.
‘I mean, this is a king who was dug up in a car park, under the letter R for “Reserved parking”. It’s a Catholic king being buried in an Anglican cathedral [though it was originally a Catholic cathedral, as all English churches were before the Reformation]. Now there’ll be a procession in Leicester, with troops and crowds on the streets. It’s very eccentrically English. I’m not sure it could happen anywhere else.’
Richard will begin his final journey when his skeleton, in a lead-lined coffin made of English oak, is taken by hearse from Leicester University to the cathedral, stopping off at places that would have played a part in his life and death.
The cortege will visit Fenn Lane Farm, the spot closest to where Richard is thought to have been killed, and Dadlington, where fallen soldiers from the Battle of Bosworth are buried. There’ll be a 21-gun salute at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and the hearse will be joined by a mounted guard of honour. At Bow Bridge, where it’s believed Richard rode out to battle, 200 schoolchildren will display the medieval-style pennants they’ve designed.
Following a short service at Leicester’s oldest church, St Nicholas, the coffin will be shrouded in a pall embroidered with scenes of his life, death and discovery by renowned artist Jacquie Binns, and mounted on a brake drawn by four horses.
A handover will take place at the cathedral, where the coffin will go on display ahead of the reinterment service on 26 March, when it’s laid in a vault under the Swaledale tombstone designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects, which bears Richard’s motto ‘Loyaulte me lie’, or ‘Loyalty binds me’. The whole shebang is said to be costing £2.5 million.
What tone will the coverage take though? It’s a funeral, obviously, but also a global event with giant screens and all the attendant hoop-la. Will the Channel 4 coverage reflect this commercial side, or be reverential? ‘Well, it’s impossible to avoid the light side yet we don’t get to bury an English king often, do we?’ says Snow. ‘To be honest, it’s not like anything I’ve worked on before – there is no precedent. I don’t imagine we’ll see anything like it again, either.’
Hold on though. This is a royal funeral. Why is Channel 4 holding court? ‘Ah well, there’s an interesting story there,’ says Snow. ‘When permission was sought to dig up the car park, the local authority had the wit to grant it on condition a TV company was involved, just in case they did find the bones, because it would be good for Leicester. The BBC turned it down. Channel 4 wanted it.’
Ouch! Heads should roll at the BBC for that one, given how much media coverage the discovery has had. Obviously, to rub salt into the wounds, Channel 4, having secured rights to broadcast the funeral, is going to town, with correspondents dotted along the route, and the studio crammed full of historians. When the idea was mooted that Snow should front it, though, he was baffled.
‘I’m the only Snow who isn’t a historian,’ he says, with reference to the confusion between him, his cousin Peter Snow and Peter’s son Dan. Then he wondered if he could summon up enough enthusiasm for the subject. ‘But I have to say I got very interested. To see the skeleton in the hole, [as the excavation, televised in the Channel 4 documentary Richard III: The King In The Car Park, revealed] with that extraordinary bent spine, it’s fascinating.’
In fact, the discovery of the skeleton put to bed the question over quite how hunchbacked the king was. After his death, Tudor writers smeared him as a deformed man with a limp and a withered arm. The reality, it seems, is not so extreme – he had scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, but in armour he would likely have looked quite normal.
Incredibly, Snow says that he actually might be related to ‘the guy they dug up’, something he’ll be discussing on air. Pardon? ‘It’s true. I haven’t been DNA tested but I’ve found there’s some family tree history there. We knew there was a possible family link to John of Gaunt – and he was Richard III’s great-uncle. The genealogists haven’t quite finished but there is enough to prove a link. All will be revealed...’ Blimey.
It sounds as if there’ll be no end of actual experts on hand to discuss Richard III. Does Snow have a view on whether he was a sinner or a saint? ‘I think he was probably a very bad man, but in those days nobody ever got to power unless they’d killed somebody.’
The reburial has been planned with military precision and consultant Nick Vaughan-Barratt – whose previous roles have included overseeing Children In Need – is in charge of co-ordinating the coverage. ‘In terms of scale, it’s up there with the big extravaganzas,’ he confirms. ‘There’ll be about 30 TV cameras, miles of cable and 100 or so technical and production staff for Channel 4 alone. Film crews will come from all over the world too. There will be enough technical vehicles to fill the car park Richard was found in three times over.’
It is the final chapter in one of the most extraordinary sagas in our history, or, as Snow puts it ‘the culmination of one of the greatest historical mysteries ever’. And it’s one that was driven not by royalty or the great and good. Hence the feeling at Channel 4 that this is very much the people’s funeral. There will be dignitaries present – the Archbishop of Canterbury will be in attendance, and senior royals (Sophie, Countess of Wessex will be there as will the Duke of Gloucester, who holds the same title as Richard did before he became king).
The undisputed unofficial chief mourner, however, will be writer and amateur historian Philippa Langley – a woman once accused of being obsessed with the dead king. It was she who spearheaded the search for Richard’s remains after becoming fascinated with him while researching a book. Many thought she was mad when she stood in a car park and said she felt she was standing on Richard’s grave – but she was proved right.
As we go to press, Philippa isn’t sure what part she will play in the funeral, if any, but she says she has no desire to be in the front row holding a rose. ‘It’s not about me,’ she insists. ‘I don’t know what I’ll feel on the day, but I expect it will be a sense of relief. A great wrong – that he wasn’t given a king’s burial – will have been put right.’ There must be a sense of vindication too for Philippa and others in the Richard III Society. ‘Yes there is. A lot of hard work went in to getting us this far. From the start, all we wanted to do was discover what had happened to him and give him a proper burial – one fit for a king,’ she says.
Since the discovery the country has gone a little bit Richard III crazy, with a raft of books and documentaries seeking to shed light on his little-known life. History has effectively been rewritten.
But with the revelations came controversy. The first row centred on what should happen to the late king’s remains. Both the cities of York – where, as a member of the House of York, Richard III was from – and Leicester, where he died, but traditionally a city associated with the House of Lancaster, laid claim to his remains, and the modern-day War of the Roses ended up in court. One of the church leaders involved even received threats, and police were called. Passions were clearly running high.
In some quarters they still are. The sight of Richard III being laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral will not please everyone, although Jon Snow thinks the right decision was made. ‘I think having him in their cathedral will mean more to Leicester than it would do to York. They need someone like that. They haven’t got as much to shout about as York has.’
Philippa admits to a little gripe herself. The specially constructed tomb in Leicester Cathedral is part of an overhaul of the building – but is very modern. Some might say that is apt, given the circumstances (not to mention that Richard’s remains were identified using thoroughly modern methods such as carbon dating). She, however, would prefer somewhere ‘a little more traditional’ where she could go and pay her respects. ‘But I do feel that there will be a great sense of closure once it is over, that he has been laid to rest in a fitting way.’
Will the chapter be closed for her – and other Richard III buffs – too? Of course not. ‘Oh no, in many ways the story is just beginning,’ she says. ‘We know how he died now. But there is still so much to uncover about how he lived. And I do think there is a film to be made about his life, one day.’
It seems this is one extraordinary story that will run and run.
Richard III: The Burial Of A King, Sunday 22 March, 5.30pm, Channel 4. The main service will be live on Channel 4 on Thursday 26 March from 10am.