Dr Phil Stone outlines the Richard III Society’s views regarding the king’s burial.
When the ‘Looking for Richard Project’ was devised by Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, her main purpose was not only to find the remains of Richard III but, if he could be found, to ensure that he was then laid to rest with honour and with dignity in a tomb that befitted the remains of an anointed medieval English king.
After his death at Bosworth, the body of Richard III was taken into Leicester to be publicly exhibited before it was taken to the Greyfriars, where it was hastily buried in the church in a grave too small for it. Appearances suggest that his hands were still bound and that he was not given a coffin nor possibly even a shroud. Whilst we can be sure that he was given a burial service with a requiem mass – the monks would have seen to that – he most certainly did not get the proper rites and ceremonies that might be expected for a king, and a well-respected king, at that.
No one present at the battle would have recognised the image of Richard III that is so often portrayed today. They would not understand how the warrior who nearly won the battle and only died because of the treason of two of his time-serving nobles, one of whom was the stepfather of his opponent, could be portrayed as a monster. To them, Richard III was a good king who had the welfare of his people at heart, seeking fair dealing for all, not just the rich and powerful.
We now have the opportunity to reverse the insults laid upon him by his successors. The remains of King Richard must be treated with all respect and dignity. For members of the Richard III Society and Ricardians all around the world, this means he must be re-interred in a proper tomb, one that stands above the ground. A ledger stone is not enough. The tomb should be decorated with heraldic symbols that represent Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and King of England, and the white rose of the House of York and the white boar which was Richard’s own cognisance. Perhaps the cross of St Cuthbert – one of the saints with which Richard and his queen, Anne Neville, were most closely associated – should also adorn the tomb, as the Society’s proposed design suggests .
Richard III must now be brought out of the darkness and obscurity of an unmarked grave, and brought into the light of honour in a tomb that befits both him as a man and his status as a medieval king.
The decision as to which religious house would be given the honour of providing a place for the king’s remains was never the Society’s to make. But it is happy to work with the authorities of Leicester Cathedral to see that King Richard is ‘right royally’ interred with all ceremony and with a suitable monument. It is interesting to see that many of the citizens of Leicester are in agreement that ‘the king in the car park’ should now be given a table tomb as befits his status as an English monarch. That will certainly always remain the conviction of the Richard III Society.
The finding of the lost remains of a fifteenth-century king is a unique occurrence which provides a unique opportunity for their reinterment in a manner that reflects their historical importance. The public today and generations to come will expect nothing less. For Ricardians and believers in fair play around the world, the finding of the king’s remains means we can clear away half a millennium of myth and innuendo and give a dignified reinterment to the physical remains of the man who was known in his lifetime as ‘Good King Richard’. Please, let us not repeat the mistakes and insults of the past.