I begin with a Ricardian footnote to the Scottish referendum, which is taking place this year, some say, because Alex Salmond was seized by the notion that that by causing it to happen near the 710th anniversary of the Scottish victory at Bannockburn (1314) he would stoke up the anti-English triumphalism of his followers. Who knows?
But if historical triumphalism is the name of the game, it may perhaps be permitted to an Englishman who thinks that Richard III was not the villain depicted by Tudor propaganda to remark that it was Richard who as Duke of Gloucester definitively recaptured Berwick upon Tweed (on 24 August 1482): it was the last time that the Royal Burgh changed hands between the two realms. So we English (and the Royal Burghers in particular) have that at least to thank him for.
Richard was a brave and brilliant military commander (unlike the incompetent Edward II, who threw away victory at Bannockburn): he died at Bosworth not in flight but bravely in battle, the last English King to do so. It’s not my intention to whitewash Richard, who like most medieval kings did some pretty brutal things in his career (but not, I think, including the ‘murder of the princes in the tower’): all the same before I get on to what I want to say about his reinterment in the Protestant cathedral in Leicester the narrative of his enemies needs to be balanced by other accounts, some by eye witnesses, like that of Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s, who accompanied him on a royal progress through the nation at the beginning of his (in my view tragically) short reign, who in a private letter to a friend (so this wasn’t propaganda for general consumption) wrote that “He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progess. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he hath refused. On my truth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God has sent him to us for the weal of us all.”
Richard was portrayed as the model prince that he aspired to be by the visiting Italian humanist Pietro Carmeliano: “if’, he wrote, “in the first place, we consider religion, what prince is there in our time which is more religious? If justice, who do we think is to be preferred to him in the whole world? If we look for prudence in fostering peace and waging war, whom do we judge ever to be his equal?”
Enough. Many disagree with these idealisations. The point is that he was the last of the Plantagenets and therefore a Catholic King, almost the last (only his usurper remained nominally faithful before the great apostasy): so he ought to be being reinterred in a Catholic cathedral. What is there about that proposition which is even slightly controversial? It may not have been politically doable for our bishops to insist on it: but it is quite clear that the way in which the whole thing is to unfold, with the tacit agreement of the Bishops’ conference, has to be seen as a defeat for the English Catholic Church: it is, in microcosm, a narrative demonstration of our current position within English culture. And I am writing this because someone needs to say that the gruesome ecumenical subservience this indicates ought now to be challenged and repudiated by all English Catholics.
It may of course be that relations are not as calm as they appear on the surface. Is it my imagination, or has there, in fact, been some behind the scenes discord over all this? The reinterment will take place in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as though Richard had been rendered posthumously protestant. Cardinal Nichols, so far as I can see, will not be present. Was he asked? This is what the Cardinal had to say about the whole thing: “The death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 was a decisive moment in English history. Following his death, Richard III was buried in the Franciscan Friary in Leicester, and his body lay in its grave until it was discovered in 2012. It is now fitting that his remains should be reinterred with dignity and accompanied by the prayers of the Church in Leicester Cathedral, the mediaeval parish church of Leicester. We commend all who have died to the love and mercy of Almighty God, and continue to pray for them, as we shall for Richard III and all who have lost their lives in battle.”
Now, this is strangely worded, considering who wrote it. “The death of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485”, says the Cardinal “was a decisive moment in English history”. Well obviously: but why was it so decisive? Because it placed on the throne the dynasty which renounced papal authority and made it illegal to pray for the departed; which invented the Church of England with all its doctrinal baggage; and which inaugurated a persecution of English Cathoiics which lasted at least four hundred years and which in some ways (though much milder) still persists. The Battle of Bosworth wasn’t just “decisive”: from a Catholic perspective, it was catastrophic. The reinterment of Richard III by a protestant archbishop may be considered to be a triumphal demonstration of how firmly in place still is the anti-Catholic ascendancy that Bosworth made possible.
“It is now fitting” says the Cardinal “that his remains should be reinterred with dignity and accompanied by the prayers of the Church in Leicester Cathedral”. Why, exactly, is it fitting? Leicester cathedral, being part of the general architectural seizure by the new Church can certainly be described as “the mediaeval parish church of Leicester”. But it is a Catholic church no longer: and a King of England should in any case not be buried in a simple parish church. And consider what kind of service the actual reinterment will be.
We are told that as the service approaches, the will be some Catholic activity. The cardinal will preach at a service of “compline” on the day the king’s remains are received into the cathedral and will celebrate a Requiem Mass the next day at a nearby Catholic parish.
Dominican friars will also sing vespers at the cathedral in the run-up to the reinterment and Fr David Rocks OP, parish priest, will preach at a lunchtime Eucharist. But all this is on the periphery. So far as I can see, the Cardinal will not be present at the actual reinterment. He will not pray publicly for the King’s soul as his remains are lowered into the grave: and so far as I can work out,neither will anyone else (If I am wrong about this I would be glad to be corrected). This is how the interfaith super-ecumenical farrago that will unfold is officially described:
“Thursday, 26 March 2015
The mortal remains of Richard III will be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral, with an invited congregation and in the presence of the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and senior clergy from both dioceses, and other Christian denominations alongside representatives of the World Faiths.”
And I wonder what THEY will make of it all. I say no more.