King Richard III’s final journey – Sydney Morning Herald
London: “These things don’t happen very often, let’s face it,” says Richard III’s number one fan, Dr Phil Stone.
For the hundreds of his fellow members of the Richard III Society, enthusiastic amateur historians who used to meet to complain about their subject’s 500 years of bad press, this is one of the most exciting weeks of their lives.
Finally, the last English king to die in battle, killed at Bosworth Field in 1485 and hastily buried in a long-forgotten Leicester grave, is receiving a right royal farewell.
The coffin of Richard III emerges from the St Nicholas church in Leicester on Sunday. Photo: AP
The festivities began on Sunday with the king’s remains, discovered in 2012 underneath a carpark, delivered to Leicester Cathedral in a horse-drawn hearse, greeted with a cannon salute.
The procession began at Fenn Lane Farm, close to the spot where the king fell, and travelled through Bosworth into the city, where his body was ignominiously returned after the battle, slung across a horse (as Thomas More described it, “like a hogge or a calfe, the head and armes hangyng on the one side of the horse and the legs on the other side”).
The coffin was received at the cathedral and will lie for public viewing until Thursday.
The coffin containing the remains of King Richard III transported on a gun carriage through Leicester on Sunday. Photo: AP
The society’s chairman, white-bearded retired radiologist Dr Stone, has a gruff matter-of-fact manner, but the way he corrects people over this week’s funeral betrays his excitement.
“Strictly it’s not a funeral. It’s assumed that he had a funeral in 1485 and you only get one apparently, so this is a reinterment.”
This week he and his fellow society members – and other tourists and Plantagenet fans – will attend concerts of 500-year-old music, services and readings. They will visit Bosworth field, enjoy fireworks, and on Thursday gather around TVs and temporary screens to watch the big event, the reinterment itself.
The coffin containing the remains of Richard III is carried into Leicester Cathedral. Photo: Getty
“I should imagine it’s going to be packed,” Dr Stone said. “There are a lot of people out there who consider it quite a remarkable event. Obviously I’m biased, but it’s something that nobody is ever likely to see again in their lifetime.
“From our point of view it’s a case of seeing justice done. The king’s remains were very badly treated in 1485 and now they’re going to be reinterred with dignity and honour and in a fitting tomb for a king.
“It’s setting history right.”
A 21-gun salute is fired near a coffin carrying the remains of Richard III near Leicester. Photo: Getty
Leicester was chosen for the reinterment after a fierce legal fight with York for the right to the king’s remains, which are likely to be a significant tourist attraction.
There was also a brief push for him to lie in Westminster Abbey alongside other royals.
“But there is no room,” Dr Stone said. “It’s not even standing room only as far as the royal tombs are concerned. A shaft six feet down and one foot square is not on, we wanted something more than that.”
Watching the Richard III funeral procession through Leicester on Sunday. Photo: AP
Instead a big tomb will take pride of place in Leicester Cathedral.
The tomb’s designers, Van Heyningen and Haward, said they had made a “21st century sarcophagus”, made of Swaledale limestone on a Kilkenny stone plinth, carved with the king’s name, dates and motto, and with the Royal coat of arms.
It replaces a memorial stone placed there in 1982.
Locals await the procession carrying Richard III’s coffin in Leicester. Photo: Reuters
Richard fell fighting to hold onto his crown against the invading forces of Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII. William Shakespeare famously depicted him going down fighting shouting “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
Philippa Langley, a screenwriter who led the search for Richard III, said it was the end of an “extraordinary journey”.
“It’s reignited our interest in this period of history,” she said in an interview.
“It’s got people talking and it’s got people debating and it’s got people reading widely about Richard III, and realising that there’s far more to this man than people ever knew.”
A busy schedule of events is planned.
On Monday, the cardinal archbishop will say a mass for Richard in the city’s Holy Cross Church.
The public will be able to view the coffin for the next few days, before the remains are reinterred at the cathedral on Thursday.
The Countess of Wessex, Prince Richard (Duke of Gloucester and Patron of the Richard III Society) and his wife, The Duchess of Gloucester, will be present for the reinterment.
The Queen will not, though she has written a greeting that will appear in the order of service.
Dr Stone had heard rumour that other royals would attend – rumours, however, that were quashed by the Palace.
This has caused more than a little discontent amid this glorious summer of the son of York.
“We are burying a monarch,” Dr Stone said. “It would be reasonable to have somebody. Mind you I have no problem with just having the Duke of Gloucester.
“But I know there are people out there who would think it was bad manners if somebody from the Palace is not representing.
“If it was a modern-day monarch being buried, one of the Europeans for instance, then somebody from the royal family would be present. Five hundred years shouldn’t make that much difference.”
However, the Queen may not be as closely related to Richard III as was thought. One of the biggest surprises from the rediscovery of the king’s remains was that DNA samples of modern “descendants” did not match chromosomes extracted from the bones.
This led scientists to conclude there had been a “false paternity event” somewhere along the line from the Plantagenets and Tudors to the present-day royals.
The reinterment, which will be shown live on British television, will feature music from an early 15th century manuscript, including a piece written to celebrate Henry V’s marriage and his victory at Agincourt.