Lady Fortuna smiled down upon me once again; I was extremely lucky to be able to attend yesterday’s events for the reburial of Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet King. On Sunday, Leicester was abuzz with excitement as Richard’s remains departed the University of Leicester and made their final journey to where he will lie in state for 3 days until his official reinterment on Thursday.
Richard III remains a controversial figure in English history. He is accused of murdering his nephews, the young Princes, 12 year old Edward V, and his brother, 9 year old Richard, the Duke of York. After his death on Bosworth Field, Tudor historians took great pains to further vilify his reputation, and for a long time, it worked. Richard has been touted as one of the worst King’s in English history, certainly, no King John but definitely not far behind. The Ricardian Society and modern historians have taken a step back and challenged the notions of Richard being an evil tyrant and child murdering king. This week it seems some of those efforts have been successful. While there have been outcries over the pomp and circumstance surrounding Richard’s extravagant burial, there has also been a renewed sense of pride and upswing in popularity for this much maligned monarch. All of England is watching; and for good or bad, he is the centre of attention 530 years after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
As a Canadian who didn’t grow up surrounded by all things medieval, it was an honour and privilege to witness these events. It was also a proud moment because Richard’s story has a Canadian twist. Richard III was properly identified using his sister Anne of York’s line which led to the DNA testing of Michael Ibsen, a Canadian cabinet maker. Ibsen is Richard’s 17th generation nephew and he built the coffin that Richard will be buried in on Thursday.
Leicester was blessed with some spectacular weather for the day – it was beautiful and sunny, making the long wait for the crowds less painful. Many people patiently queued for hours outside Leicester Cathedral to wait for a glimpse of Richard’s cortège before he was escorted inside. The mood of the crowd was jovial for such a sombre event with many onlookers holding white roses, symbols of the Yorkist faction to which Richard belonged during the War of the Roses. Richard’s journey began in a hearse with his casket in clear view as it wound its way from the University grounds through the surrounding countryside. After stopping at several pivotal points just outside the city, he made his way into Leicester to St. Nicholas’ Church where he was solemnly transferred from the hearse to a horse drawn carriage for the final route through the city centre to Leicester Cathedral.
As Richard was hoisted from the horse drawn cart, and escorted by 2 knights in full period armour, a rousing cheer went up from the crowd. The cheering, the solemnity of the day’s events, the knights, the fanfare, and the general mood was something to behold. For me personally, it wasn’t so much about a feeling for or against Richard III as a ruler, but about being a part of history. I was moved while watching it all unfold and there was a definite awe in the crowd. Being able to witness a closing chapter of medieval history as a medievalist is incredible; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. I’m sure I will never see anything like this again in my lifetime. Whether you like or dislike Richard III, it’s hard to not get caught up in the moment if you’re passionate about history. This is an experience that is one for the history books and I’m glad I was a part of it.