The Richard III reburial, eh? Let’s be honest, who among us expected that the first televised funeral of a British monarch, that we would see in our lifetimes, would be that of a man who died five centuries ago? I’m pretty sure we all would have bet the house on our beloved Queen being afforded the honour. Indeed, yesterday’s funeral procession, leading up to the Richard III reburial, was unique for a number of reasons, not least because it culminated with a Catholic service (a compline) in an Anglican cathedral, something which probably generated a lot of tension behind-the-scenes. The logic for this decision was obvious – when Richard was slaughtered in battle in 1485, there was no such thing as the Church of England, so he died a default Catholic. Fair enough.
More than 5,000 people have visited Leicester Cathedral to view Richard III’s coffin before his remains are reintered on Thursday.
The king’s casket went on display on Monday morning and people waited up to four hours to see it.
Richard III’s skeleton was found under a car park in Leicester in 2012.
A requiem mass was said at Holy Cross Church in Leicester earlier, led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England.
The reburial ceremony will be held at Leicester Cathedral later this week, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Further viewing times are Tuesday 09:00-12:30 / 14:00-17:00 / 19:15-21:00 and Wednesday 09:00-12:30.
Liz Hudson from Leicester Cathedral said the amount of people visiting had been “remarkable”.
“We would have liked for people not to have waited three to four hours but everybody has got through,” she said.
“It is the only chance we will ever get to do this and we are expecting even more people on Tuesday with the longer opening times.”
Richard, the last English king to die in battle, was killed at Bosworth Field in 1485, at the end of the Wars of the Roses.
AN OVERCONFIDENT KING
As soon as Richard discovered news of Henry Tudor’s arrival in Wales on August 7, he was overjoyed, claiming that the forthcoming battle would prove his right to rule. Still aged just 32, Richard had already carved out a career as a highly successful military general. In fact, he had never lost a battle, leading the vanguards of his brother Edward IV’s armies at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, while he had spent the early 1480s waging war against the Scots— winning back Berwick for the English in 1482. In comparison, Henry Tudor, had spent his youth in exile, mostly imprisoned for his own safety, with no military training to his name. Tudor had attempted to land in England two years previously, during a rebellion that Richard had mercilessly crushed, forcing his retreat. Since then, Richard had begun the medieval equivalent of an arms race, preparing his defences and restocking his powerful arsenal of guns and canon in the Tower of London. It was hardly surprising that Richard decided to delay his departure from Nottingham to counter Tudor’s rapid march through Wales, in order to observe the feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15). Meanwhile, Tudor was allowed to advance faster than had been anticipated, past Shrewsbury and into England— a blow that forced Richard to realise that Tudor’s threat was very real.
Read: Everything you need to know about Richard III’s reburial
Read: Is this the right body?
HENRY TUDOR’S SECRET WEAPON: THE FRENCH
The battle began early in the morning on August 22, commencing with the salvoes of Richard’s artillery opening fire. With too few English men to fight in his army, Tudor had been forced to recruit trained mercenaries from Normandy to fight for him. These French forces seem to have been experts in military warfare, and were quickly able to establish “by the king’s shoReadde lie of the land and the order of his battle”. The Burgundian Chronicler Jean Molinet wrote how the French troops, led by Philibert de Chandee – whom Henry VII would later reward with the title Earl of Bath – ordered for Tudor’s force to be reassembled, and “in order to avoid the fire” and instead to attack the right hand flank of Richard’s vanguard, that seems to have caused confusion in the royal army. Richard’s vanguard was broken and soon dispersed and the French, according to Molinet, “obtained the mastery of his vanguard”. A letter written by a French soldier shortly after the battle, described how Richard was heard crying “These French traitors are today the cause of our realm’s ruin”.
The public response of the past week appears to have been driven in part by the jamboreelike atmosphere that has swept Leicester. The weekend procession in which Richard’s coffin was driven to Bosworth and back featured people dressed in medieval suits of armor, period dress and the habits of Franciscan friars, some shouting “Long live the king!” The enthusiasm continued as the coffin, on wooden trestles beside the cathedral’s baptismal font, was opened to the public for what amounted to an extended lying in state. At one point, the waiting time ran to more than four hours.
Some saw the message encoded in the public acclaim less as one of embracing the idea of Richard as a “good king,” as he has been described by Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, than one of redemption beyond the grave, a theme that has had a compelling force, across all ages and religions.
That theme was pervasive in the reburial service, perhaps captured best when Archbishop Welby, standing beside the grave as the coffin was lowered, invoked forgiveness for Richard. “We have entrusted our brother Richard to God’s mercy,” he said, “and we now commit his human remains to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
People waited to view the coffin of King Richard III, shown in a portrait, on Wednesday at Leicester Cathedral in England.
Correction: March 26, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of the most senior member of the royal family in attendance at Richard III’s reburial. She is the Countess of Wessex, not the Duchess.
With this article, John F. Burns concludes a distinguished career spanning 40 years with The New York Times, 39 of them with the international desk. Beginning with South Africa in 1976, Mr. Burns reported from 10 foreign bureaus and was chief of the Baghdad bureau during the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Along the way, he wrote more than 3,300 articles and collected two PulitzerPrizes for International Reporting, one in Afghanistan and the other in Bosnia. His portrait of a cellist playing on Sarajevo’s main pedestrian concourse while artillery shells exploded nearby is considered a classic of modern journalism. He will continue to contribute to the international and sports desks, among others.
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