Richard III Funeral – Benedict Cumberbatch

Its’ been a rather surreal week with the internment of the body of Richard III. A wonderful spectacle and hopefully a prompt for many schools and the public in general both in England and around the world, to learn more about King Richard III. In between many of the rather insipid ‘What do you reckon?’ interviews with various passers by (as aptly described in the Mitchell and Webb sketch below)

plus the usual regurgitation from Mr. Starkey, some of the messages about Richard III’s progressive views regarding religion, the law and publishing did come through.

The perfect choice to read this 14-line poem, written by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy especially for the service of reinterment of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral, was Benedict Cumberbatch. A happy co-incidence for Cumberbatch is that he’s playing Richard III as part of the Hollow Crown series. It has also been revealed that he’s very very distantly related. Not bad PR for Mr Cumberbatch and I certainly don’t begrudge him it, he’s a wonderful talent. (One might say that distantly almost anyone in England is related – but I can almost guarantee that won’t include me!)

Richard

My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …

or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

We are so cynical and superficial these days that the whole process might seems almost laughable and yet, there is something spiritually intriguing around how ceremony, rites, prayers and collective thoughts can make us feel. The man doesn’t care, he’s dead – yet if there is some place beyond the grave, has some good been done?

Could it be Richard III?

Because of the news from the archeological dig in Leicester I couldn’t let today past with out a blog about my favourite Plantagenet.

I first became aware of Richard III after reading a book called the Maligned King by Annette Carson. I don’t often read history books for fun, even though I am a bit of a geek, but this novel really caught me. I remember feeling excited and outraged in equal measure by the claims made by Carson. I even found myself hesitating to end the book, because I already knew all about the battle of Bosworth and the only way was tragedy. Having found this book interesting, I read a few others about Richard III, including one I’ve yet to finish (The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman – for the same reason – it’s all about to go to pot for him).

Yorkist king Richard III grew up at Middleham....

Full of verve, I began to attempt to write a few short stories/plays portraying his last days. I found it a little disheartening therefore, to find out a well known actor (a Mr Richard Armitage) and screenwriter (who is also involved in the archeological dig) have teamed up to write just such a play.

On the other hand, I am incredibly excited  I’ll be able to finally watch a play/film about Richard III portraying him more accurately; as a proven soldier, an intelligent man with a mind for law and progress, a loving husband and father, a trusted Lord. Also of course, as a brutal, pragmatic, pious King, living in a time where life was short and bloody.  How they will play the missing princes card will be intriguing to see.

The difficultly of trying to bring the past to life in the present, is to find ways to get the audience to understand the mindset of Englishmen living in a world that seems alien to us now – without it becoming a history lesson. Peoples morals and beliefs were so different then; what would seem barbaric or laughable to us now, would be see as fair, just and sensible back then.

Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood

Having only come to love all things Richard III in the last few years, it seems serendipitous that Leicester University decided to begin the search for his remains. When they began the dig I held out little hope anything would be found beyond a bit of pottery and a pin, but today, what a find!

An intact skeleton, found within the fallen walls of Grey Friars church. An adult male, with a clear wound to the back of the head consistent with a sharp blade, and an arrowhead in the spine. Not to mention a distinct twist in the spine (scoliosis) which would have made one shoulder slightly higher than the other. Not – I repeat Not evidence of a hunchback. (Let’s face it Shakespeare really took that idea and ran with it.)Of course there’s DNA testing to be done and who knows if that will reveal this really is Richard III, I do hope so. (And I do hope they’ve got that play written, would be a great bit of timing…. )

Here’s more info about the dig: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-19561018 and article from the New Scientist.

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The rest-less king

Apparently Richard III is the only English monarch with no known resting place. Well, that could all change very soon. Leicester University are leading an archeological search for the bones of Richard III under a council car park – thought to be the site of the old Greyfriars Church. The church was demolished by that jolly Tudor monarch, Henry VIII, after he broke with Rome to get a divorce and top up his own coffers with the church’s wealth.

I’m not getting my hopes up, I’ve seen enough episodes of Time Team, back in the day, to know it’s unlikely anything will be found – and even if something is found, proving beyond all doubt these really are the bones of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III is going to be tricky.

There is of course the old rumour that his body was thrown into the River Soar, during the ransacking of the church, by an unknown rabble – apparently a body was found when they drained the river, I don’t know what happened to these remains – so if anyone knows, feel free to comment.

http://www2.le.ac.uk/news/blog/2012/august/searching-for-richard-iii

Richard III’s demise was particularly gruesome. Having been betrayed by those he expected to aid him, and literally stabbed in the back by others, he was stripped naked, flung on his back over a horse and paraded through the town. Finally he was taken to the church to be put on display for three days. Unlike the portrayals in Shakespearean plays, he was not an old hunchback but a strong, 32 year old soldier.