Bless them for trying! As I've been saying this whole time, if the discovery of Richard's remains and the consequent reinterment celebrations have reawakened an interest in Plantagenet history and the Wars of the Roses, who can argue with that? As the Tudor Enthusiast, it's my duty to love all things relating to the sixteenth century (and I do, fear not.) - but even I can recognize that the Tudors have certainly come out on top when compared to their Plantagenet predecessors. While most people can rattle off the names of Henry VIII's wives, or even all five Tudor monarchs in order (or 6, if you've got a real know-it-all), the Plantagenets throw in a bit more of a challenge. Thanks to historical fiction and TV dramas, the Wars of the Roses have been brought to life in a much more real, emotional way - and that's helping! But this archaeological find is something else entirely. It's extraordinary to see the fifteenth century brought to life for us twenty-first century people to enjoy. The lines between the centuries really have been blurred this week, and that's what's been so fascinating to me.
We walked up to the brilliantly displayed coffin, draped in a gorgeous and ornate pall that shows key figures in Richard's life. Philippa Langley and John Ashdown-Hill (leaders of the Looking for Richard Project) can be seen on this side, while figures like Queen Anne Neville are displayed on the other. A medieval crown of gold and jewels sat atop the coffin, with a holy bible resting on the opposite end. Members of the guard stood around solemnly, protecting the coffin, and candles lit the way around it. People stopped to pray, to take photos, and to just stare in amazement. How many times are we going to have an opportunity like this one? To gaze upon the coffin that holds fifteenth century royal remains - and remains of a king who instantly became one of the most controversial figures in English history! For history enthusiasts like me, nothing could compare with the excitement I felt at standing so close to a medieval king, and one that I am actively studying and researching while here at Oxford. I felt so lucky to be there.
We also visited the Visitors' Centre, which I had been to in November. (See my post about that visit if you want a full, detailed description of the Centre)! I had asked the booking's coordinator to hold a Missing Years Rose Pin for me - one of only 527, one for each year that Richard was missing between 1485 and 2012. The years are assigned randomly, and I was so excited to see that mine was still (just barely) within the sixteenth century! I have a Tudor Missing Rose Pin. How exciting!
We had a tea break in the Visitors' Centre cafe, where the employees had sweetly placed a white rose on each table. We rejuvenated, re-energized, and headed back out to pay our final respects to the cathedral and the triumphant Richard III statue just outside. We had limited time before we had to find dinner (at The Last Plantagenet Pub!) and catch our evening train, but we weren't ready to go! We were having entirely too much fun.
Outside, as evening began to fall, the light on the Richard III statue was just beautiful. Heaped with white roses from his many admirers, Richard absolutely was triumphant in this pose. One sweet basket of white roses at his feet (from the Richard III Society) came with a note that said, "With dignity and honour - remembering King Richard III. Loyaulté Me Lie". The roses strewn all over the base of the statue were touching, especially considering the fact that this king gets virtually no love at any other time. This is Richard's moment of triumph - being recognized as a human for a week, not the murderous, tyrannical usurper that so many consider him. This week Richard gets to be human, worthy of a dignified burial and the reverence owed to the dead - especially fitting for a man who played a significant role in England's history, for better or for worse.
One thing I'd like to address as a part of this post: Some have argued over the course of these events that the excitement and hype surrounding Richard has put a cap on the intellectual and academic debate surrounding him. Some say that the 'Ricardians' who are passionately pro-Richard shut down the anti-Richards too easily, but I'd have to disagree with that. If debate about Richard had ceased, we surely wouldn't have historian David Starkey calling Philippa Langley a "loon from the Richard III Society" on national television (a completely inappropriate and cruel comment, if you ask me). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about this Yorkist king, but I think the beauty of the situation is that more and more people are wanting to have a more positive opinion. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter what your historical credentials are - whether you're a Tudor Enthusiast, a Plantagenet Enthusiast, an academic historian, a novelist, a Ricardian, or an anti-Ricardian. None of us can say that we know Richard III personally, therefore can we really be so quick to judge him as a monster? Can we rely 100% on chronicle accounts that vilify him, when there are plenty that praise him? The simple fact is that none of us knows for sure, so your opinion is as good as mine, and vice versa.
What I love about this week in Leicester is that Richard doesn't have to be a hero or a villain - he just gets to be a human worthy of a decent burial. He was King of England from 1483-1485, slain in battle defending his crown, and slung into a shallow grave at a Franciscan friary. He was denied the decency of a kingly burial because of the political climate and the nature of the times, so he's getting it now. "With dignity and honour" indeed, King Richard III can finally rest peacefully in consecrated ground.
What a momentous occasion for me, and how lucky I am to have been able to experience this! I hope everyone reading this can recognize the excitement and historical significance of this week, no matter where in the world they are!
May Richard, King of England, rest in peace.