When most people say they saw Richard III, they mean acted out. Right now, though, people in England can see the former King Richard III (or at least his coffin) in various historically significant settings near where he made his last stand, before he is finally buried later this week, more than 500 years after his short reign.
King Richard III is one of the best-known British kings in history, courtesy (or is that discourtesy) of William Shakespeare. His supposed story has been told on stage and on the big screen set in various eras. But until he remains were found under a parking lot his reputation and physical image was based on fiction.
For five centuries, the reputation of Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet monarchs who was killed in battle with Henry Tudor, who became the first Tudor king, was much maligned. He went down in history as a hunch-backed caricature of a wicked, Machiavellian king who killed two young princes who stood in the way of his succession. He died at age 32 in the Battle of Bosworth, and his corpse was stripped of its armor. He was slung over a horse and led back to Leicester for all to see, then tossed by commoners into a ditch and left to rot eventually in an unmarked grave.
Three years ago, enthusiastic historians sought to try and find his body in what is now Leicester. They succeeded finding the “grave” under an asphalt lot. The bones were removed for positive identification and are now, nearly 530 years after his death in August 1485, are being reburied.
The site in Leicester is being honored as part of his current week-long burial processional. King Richard’s second interment is a unique occasion, being held with typical British pomp and heraldry, beginning when his bones, now encased in a coffin, emerged on a gun carriage from the University of Leicester on today.
In the service held in Leicester Cathedral today, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is the current Archbishop of Westminster, tried to mend the short-lived king’s reputation. He said that Richard was actually a progressive monarch, who tried to champion the rights of his subjects. While he only was King for two years, “he reshaped vital aspects of the legal system, developing the presumption of innocence, the concept of blind justice and practice of granting bail,” said the Archbishop.
The Queen will not attend the burial service, but is also trying to rewrite Shakespeare’s version of history. Buckingham Palace reported that the Queen had written a tribute which acknowledged Richard III’s importance in British history. Her representative at the burial will reportedly be the Countess of Wessex, who is the wife of her youngest son, Edward, pretty far down the succession line.
The location at Greyfriars, Leicester, where the body was unearthed, which has drawn spectators the past three years, now sits near a King Richard III Visitor Centre. Basically a museum, the Centre explains his ancestry, the complex infighting and familial dramas leading to the War of the Roses, and about his death in battle. The museum also explains how the excavation of his body was carried out and the complicated tests used out to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains were indeed the former king’s. Undoubtedly, information is being added about how Richard III was finally buried this week more than 500 years after his reign and battlefield death.
By Dyanne Weiss