How do you solve the problem of reburying a medieval King in the 21st Century? On 16th June 2014, the Diocese of Leicester attempted to answer that question when they revealed the plans for their re-internment of King Richard III.
The Diocese released details of the coffin, tomb and setting of the burial in the cathedral.
But controversy still rages about whether the cathedral’s plans truly befit the King whom Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society dubbed as “the last warrior King.”
Richard III: The Schedule of Re-Interment
As there will be no appeal against the judicial review decision that found in Leicester cathedrals’ favour, the Diocese plans to hold the reburial as scheduled in the spring of 2015.
“We are now in a position to move forward with absolute certainty,” said the Rev. David Monteith, Dean of Leicester Cathedral. “While trusting in justice to take its natural course, we have not been idle. We recognise that we are carrying out this responsibility on behalf of the entire nation and that the eyes of the world will be on Leicester at this unprecedented time. Our ambition for the scale of the re-interment events therefore reflects the importance of this momentous occasion.”
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The re-interment ceremonies will last several days, at a cost of £2,500,000, with the Diocese of Leicester contributing £500,000 and the rest from private donations.
In the meantime, the cathedral has revealed particulars regarding the coffin, tomb and its setting.
King Richard’s “Coffin”
A procession will convey the King’s bones from the University of Leicester to Leicester cathedral. The Diocese will not lay the remains out anatomically in a coffin but will instead place them in an ossuary specially crafted by Michael Ibsen, the descendant of Richard’s sister Anne, and whose DNA scientists used to identify the King.
The Rev. David Monteith explained the thinking behind this decision in an interview with BBC Radio Leicester:
“It’s about treating his remains with the most profound respect,’ he said. “If you just lay him out anatomically in a coffin then of course when he’s buried we have no idea what will happen to those remains underground over time, and it would seem a very irresponsible thing to bury him in such a way that would deliberately result in the degradation of those remains. We need to take on-board what the historical conservationists and the archaeologists say in creating an ossuary that will potentially take those bones with the maximum amount of care.”
King Richard III’s Funeral Crown
Funeral crowns were traditionally part of royal funerals and this time, Richard will not be denied his. Dr John Ashdown- Hill, the historian instrumental in pinpointing the exact location of the Greyfriar’s church where King Richard was originally buried and who identified Michael Ibsen as the King’s descendant, commissioned a specially-designed funeral crown for the King.
“The idea came to me in September 2012, while I was carrying the box containing his bones from the Greyfriars site to the vehicle which was to take them away for scientific examination.” Said Dr Ashdown-Hill, according to the Leicester Mercury.
The crown’s design is very like the one Richard wore on his helmet at the Battle of Bosworth and experts made it to fit his head from measurements taken from the king’s remains. Gold-plated, the King’s crown displays a lower band of enameled white roses set with rubies and sapphires –the colours of the York livery and interspersed with pearls. Emeralds and turquoises set off the crosses of the crown.
“The crown design was approved by Rev. Mandy Ford’s Task Group on 04/10/2013.” Dr Ashdown-Hill told Decoded Past. “I am very glad that I have given Richard III his crown back in another way, and that the funeral crown I have had made for him will be carried on his coffin during the reburial proceedings and will then hopefully remain permanently on display somewhere close to his tomb.”
According to the press release, the Rev. Pete Hobson, canon missioner at Leicester Cathedral, said: “We’re really pleased John has been able to produce this wonderful crown…It remains our intention to give it pride of place within the re-interment ceremony.”
An Anglican Re-Interment
At the cathedral, the medieval service of compline will welcome the King’s remains, with a specially-designed pall covered in scenes commemorating his life. King Richard III will then “lie in state” for several days to allow the public to pay their respects.
On the day of re-interment, a memorial service will be held in honour of Richard and all those who died at Bosworth.
Despite calls for a Catholic reburial, the service will be Anglican.
‘”It’s an Anglican Church, so Anglican,” Liz Hudson, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Leicester told Decoded Past. “The Roman Catholic Church did not exist at the time, the state church was Catholic but there was no distinction.”
Richard’s Tomb and Its Setting
The tomb design has changed very little from that originally proposed by the Diocese, except instead of being set on a rose-shaped plinth, the tomb of Swaledale stone incised with a cross will now be set on a plinth of dark Kilkenny stone, carved with King Richard’s name, motto and coat of arms.
The Diocese intends to position the tomb facing the cathedral’s east window, which will be reset with new stained glass windows.
“What you will see as you come towards the tomb is actually not a dark cross but light coming through the cross,” explained the Reverend Mandy Ford. “You’ll also be looking up towards these wonderful new stained glass windows being commissioned by Tom Denny which shows stories of Richard’s life, the whole thing framed by a new chapel on one side and the relocated Nicholson screen on the other.”
A Tomb Fit for a King?
Although many feel laying the King’s disarticulated remains in an ossuary is disrespectful, Rev. Monteith was quick to point out ossuaries were common vessels for the remains of medieval monarchs, popes and saints.
But the tomb design is certainly not medieval. Indeed, the Richard III Society feels that it is inappropriate for the King.
“As Ricardians we’ve made no secret that [we think] the gashed sort of cross dishonours the King really, in every possible way,” Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society told BBC Radio Leicester.
“They see the slash marks as making a mockery of the way the man died on the field of battle and sort of caricaturing the wounds that he received…he was an incredibly pious man and he revered the Christian symbol of the cross, it was a big sign of his faith. When the Cathedral launched their very first design it had a beautiful cross on top of it and that was received with almost universal acclaim, so we’re really disappointed that the slashed cross is still there.”
The Tomb: “Not a Medieval Pastiche”
The cathedral and the Richard III Society convened a meeting on Monday 23rd June 2014, to discuss possible modifications to the tomb design, including the use of white roses of York on the plinth.
Although happy to discuss modifications, the Dean of Leicester has defended the overall design of the tomb on the Diocese of Leicester webpage:
“This is a tomb which reflects the era in which it is designed as well as the solemn purpose for which it is commissioned,” said Rev. Monteith. “To do anything else would be a pastiche of a medieval tomb and would ignore the fact he is being reburied in the 21st century. That is part of King Richard’s story now.”© Copyright 2014 Natasha Sheldon, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past