The return of a King?

If you’re one of the people flocking to Leicester over this week you will be able to appreciate the magnetic pull of human remains being paraded through the street in a small wooden box. The draw of an individual famous perhaps more because of his notoriety and penchant for nepoticide than anything else. Richard III is not a sexy king to write or talk about. As Charlie Brooker has observed in the Guardian, we’re making an awfully big fuss for a King that will be few peoples favourite.

That is probably a bit unfair, as we’re increasingly finding out, the media, from TV to radio to newspapers are trotting out myths and pop culture about Richard III for it to be thoroughly and soundly debunked or at the very least debated. We are becoming more saturated in information and discussion than Richard’s own supposed hands in the blood of the princes in the tower. Which, by the way, was one of the key points of controversy. Shakespeare has a lot to answer for.

If I sound scathing, it’s all a bit of a ruse. I’m loving the attention the whole thing is getting. More importantly, how interested and varied the audience for history is beyond watching a documentary on BBC 4 of a evening, glass of wine in hand. Actually, Richard himself reputedly drank a bottle a day of the stuff, according to isotope samples, a man after my own tipsy heart. I digress. But, since I’ve mentioned it, and its referenced articles so much already, the BBC is positively revelling in covering all of the events. I recommend, if you haven’t already exploring everything from Aerial footage to Moral Maze episodes (read much much more from the BBC here). I’m not on commission, promise!

"English actor David Garrick in 1745 in the titular role in Act V, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Richard III. This scene takes place just before the battle of Bosworth Field, Richard's sleep having been haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered, wakes to the realization that he is alone in the world and death is imminent." Currently in Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
“English actor David Garrick in 1745 in the titular role in Act V, Scene 3 of Shakespeare’s Richard III. This scene takes place just before the battle of Bosworth Field, Richard’s sleep having been haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered, wakes to the realization that he is alone in the world and death is imminent.” Currently in Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

So the multifaceted face of Richard starts to emerge. Quite literally. Reconstructions abound and long lost relatives appearing seemingly left, right and centre. Well, actually more emerging north east actually. There has been some contestation from York. The place, rather than the Plantagenet house. The mini-drama of Richard’s final resting place would have been vastly improved, in my opinion, with a little more scandal and political plotting a la the War of the Roses. But alas, we live in a more ‘civilized’ and democratic society, so there are Facebook petitions instead (view it here). I do not often like picking sides in a debate, but I am struggling to see the side of the argument to ‘return’ the remains to York after they have resided for so long in Leicester.

King Richard III by an unknown artist (currently on display in the National Potrait Gallery) & Aneurin Barnard as Richard in 'The White Queen' BBC 1 drama broadcast in 2013. Image courtesy of the Radio Times.
King Richard III by an unknown artist (currently on display in the National Potrait Gallery) & Aneurin Barnard as Richard in ‘The White Queen’ BBC 1 drama broadcast in 2013. Image courtesy of the Radio Times.

To compare the arguing over Richard’s remains to the actual fighting over the throne elevates the issues way beyond it’s station. The whole thing strikes me as pettiness inflated by the belief in the wishes of a King dead for 530 years and some tenuous bloodlines that a pointed at for legitimacy. I know… I’m feeling all controversial and political.

Some of the comments from the Yorkist side of things:

The more I see of the undignified, money-grabbing pantomime surrounding King Richard III in Leicester this weekend, the more incensed I become. The last Plantagenet king of England being treated as you would a sporting trophy, paraded through the streets, and, even worse, mirroring his last terrible journey after he was murdered at the Battle of Bosworth. I had thought I was past being shocked by anything Leicester did with regards Richard III but this travesty takes the biscuit. – LOUISE HOLLINGSWORTH

You can take many things Leicester, but the biscuit? Things can go too far in the mind of an angry Yorkshirian you know.

So, after all these centuries, King Richard must still endure injustice by being reburied in the wrong cathedral, something that looks like descending into a cheap jamboree … instead of the full state funeral befitting a great man and king. In his lifetime he suffered the treachery of lesser mortals. He suffered the same treachery on the day of the Battle of Bosworth and has had to suffer the false accusation of murder for all this time. Now, sadly, the powers-that-be still cannot give him a modicum of justice by returning him to his rightful cathedral of York with the full pomp of state. – GARRY BOOKER

I am mocking. I am being rather one sided. I know. There are things in these quotes that set off a slightly irritated tick in my right eyebrow… “lesser mortals” (Richard was a king and was therefore better than the plebeians around him…grrrrrrr) and talk of “respecting his wishes” as if it was dear old uncle Rich who had popped his clogs and someone had chosen the wrong type of hymn for the funeral. There are many things wrong with the comments… the fact that the state didn’t exist at the time of Richard in the same sense of the modern incarnation. The fact that even if he did  have a state funeral he would still be paraded through the streets….*and breath* … 

A more measured argument came from who runs the Petition to bring Richard III back to Yorkshire Facebook page, tells telling the IBTimes UK:

I look at it like this, Richard’s interment in Leicester is only temporary.

We can say with absolute certainty that Richard himself never planned or intended to be buried in Leicester, and I believe that one day documents will turn up providing the truth of his real wishes: burial in York Minster.

When this happens there will be a public campaign to move Richard’s remains to their rightful resting place.

As a point of archaeological theory which is so lauded in the lecture theatres of universities. Often the case studies  centre on Native American archaeological issues NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) or other instances where racist or colonialist ambitions and sensibilities were put way above and beyond even a consideration of the concerns and culture of the native peoples who were being exploited.

But I don’t think that this falls into the same category. While it is important that archaeologists and society more generally, respect the fact that the skeletal remains represent a once living sentient human who was not all that dissimilar to us. I also think that there has to be an acknowledgement of the history and context of the reason Richard ended up there at all. To take the remains back to York, disregards the precedent of history and the intentions of those who interred him at Greyfriars. But, me thinks perhaps that most people would agree anyway… considering the numbers that have turned up at Leicester to support/see/revel in the pantomime/jamboree/funeral.

As Shakespeare put it, in the words of another Scottish King:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

On that happy note,

Emma pinxit

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