Wednesday, October 03, 2012

How should Richard III be remembered in Leicester?

Two ideas have emerged in recent days, one of which I can support and one I can't.

First the good news. Leicester's elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby is talking about opening a museum and visitor centre to mark the discovery of Richard's bones (if they are Richard's bones) in the city.

According to the Leicester Mercury (though it is not clear on what authority) one of the buildings under consideration is the old Alderman Newton school, which stands right next to the Greyfriars site where the bones were found. It is shown above in a photo I took on one of the open days at the dig.

The archaeologist who took us round remarked, perhaps a little fancifully, on the resemblance between the large window in the end wall of the school and the tracery from the monastery they had just dug up. (Window tracery, being hard to reuse, was one of the few bits of that building that had not been carted away centuries ago.) He speculated that the school's Victorian builders may have unearthed it themselves when digging its foundations.

Anyway, the newspaper quotes Sir Peter as saying:
"We do need to do something to tell the story of Richard, the story of Henry Tudor and the story of Bosworth, because they are part of the story of Leicester. 
"Fortunately, there are a number of buildings that could be used for this purpose. I am not yet in a position to say which one it could be. We are exploring possible uses with owners. 
"We have to be aware these are very difficult financial times, but this is a unique opportunity for Leicester. 
"Some modest investment now will be well worth it in the future."
And I agree with all of that.

But Jon Ashworth (Labour MP for Leicester South) got carried away, again in the Mercury, the other day:
if it does turn out to be Richard, we have to keep him in Leicester – after all he has rested here for 500 years. 
I would argue he should be laid to rest at Leicester Cathedral and enjoy a state funeral. 
State funerals in the past have taken place at Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral but wouldn't it be splendid if Leicester hosted what, I think, would be the first state funeral outside of London? Of course other cities are also laying claim to Richard. 
I had to defend Leicester's claim to an unsympathetic audience on BBC Radio York, but, as always, I strongly fought Leicester's corner.
As a graduate of both York and Leicester Universities I have some claim to objectivity here, and I agree that Richard (if it is Richard) should be reburied in Leicester Cathedral.

But a state funeral? So far the dig has been handled with good taste - there have been no pictures of the skeleton issued, for instance - but this idea is danger of taking things over the top.

Richard would have had a funeral when he was buried at Greyfriars. A dignified short service and interment at the Cathedral is all that is required. Let's not turn the thing into a circus.


Lang Rabbie said...

If that [vaguely Perpendicular] tracery was indeed reused by the Victorian architect of the school now know as St Martin's House, I suspect it is more likely that it comes from the former Wyggeston Hospital on the site (founded c.1513).

Jonathan Calder said...

The suggestion was not that the tracery was reused (it was still in the ground, after all) but that its design was an inspiration.

It would be nice if that were true, but I have my doubts.