thinking about archaeology

As became his birth

Whats on At the end of Shakespeare’s Richard III, the Earl of Richmond, now effectively king Henry VII, makes a short speech from the battlefield. Looking around at the dead, he says: “Inter their bodies as becomes their births.” Now, after 530 years, that has been done for his royal opponent at Bosworth. The whole thing was so extraordinary, and so rich and complex, perhaps time needs to pass before we can hope to understand what it meant. I’m writing about it now for the extended paperback version of my book, Digging for Richard III, which will be published later this year. I’ve been watching the Channel 4 programmes – all five and a half hours of them! Really well done, with a mix of new and archive film and much live broadcasting, with a stream of interviews with a wide range of people. Jon Snow and Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the main presenters, did their usual Channel 4 thing of efficiently putting the story first. You can see the programmes online until around April 20: Richard III: The Return of the King Richard III: The Burial of the King Richard III: The King Laid to Rest Many of the interviewees had barely a minute to say their part. But perhaps a clue to the way I am thinking comes from my conviction that the greatest insights came not from Ricardians, archaeologists, historians, craftsmen and women, people from the Church, the street, the king’s collateral descendants and all, but an actor, screenwriter and storyteller, and an experienced broadcast journalist – Julian Fellowes (famed for Gosford Park and Downton Abbey) and John Sergeant. I thought Fellowes was a star. I get to add a few pictures to the paperback, so I’ve been looking at my files. With other work commitments and a long flu-like illness – best laid plans and all that – I was unable to blog about the reburial week as I’d hoped. Here is one day, the day when Richard III’s remains left the university and were handed over to the cathedral: with my archaeological hat on, this was the most significant (and bizarre) in the week. Fielding Johnson building Early in the morning, press and public wait outside the University of Leicester, at the Fielding Johnson building where the announcement that Richard III’s grave had been found was made in 2013. Langley Philippa Langley. Ashdown-Hill Kennedy John Ashdown-Hill talks to the Guardian’s Maev Kennedy. coffin reveal And out it came, Michael Ibsen’s plain oak casket, weighted by the inner lead coffin, the first time the complete remains were to leave the university since the excavation. Beneath the temporary shelter – redundant in the fresh spring day – all the main parties were represented. Here were the Richard III Society, descendants of Richard’s sister (not – as the Reinterment Service had it and a dismissive John Ashdown-Hill showed Philippa Langley on live TV – direct descendants of Richard himself), the university archaeologists and scientists, the cathedral, the county council and the university. Speeches were made. The Revd Canon Dr Stephen Foster led a ceremony of reflection, with readings from Khalil Gibran, the Diamond Sutra, Soto Zen Buddhist scripture and Hindu ancient Sanskrit, and, later, from Robert Frost (“I took the one less travelled by…”), Hebrew Psalm 22, a Sikh Shabad and the Qur’an, and closing with Eid Mubarak, a Muslim festival greeting – all interpreted by a signer. In February, Philippa Langley, who had wanted Richard’s remains to be placed in a Catholic “holy place” pending their reburial, had complained that the university was treating the king “as a scientific specimen right up to and including the point at which he is laid in his coffin”. “Why can’t the university”, she asked, “put their secular narrative to one side?” The narrative was certainly now no longer entirely secular. But was Philippa – “If King Richard were a Jew or a Muslim the appropriate rites and ceremonies would be observed without question” – happy? It would be easy to parody this ceremony; it didn’t help that the handbook misspelt Qur’an. But unless you were nerdily studying the texts (who, me?) you’d hear only the words, and the words were good. And the presence of the coffin, and what it contained, was overwhelmingly powerful. Twenty people took it in turns to lay a white rose on the coffin. They approached in groups: three archaeologists, three scientists, two further groups from the university, two groups from the Richard III Society and three royal descendants. Apppleby rose Here is Jo Appleby, with Turi King just behind her, the two people who did most to recover and identify Richard’s remains. Langley rose Philippa Langley, with Annette Carson and Ashdown-Hill waiting on the left. Ibsen rose Michael Ibsen, his brother Jeff and Wendy Duldig. bearing coffin hearse Richard Buckley holds the roses as the coffin is carried off, and then places the cushion on top inside the hearse (did anyone notice this is happening at Leicester University?). St Nicholas Place The cortege headed off to Fenn Lane, following the route I’d mapped earlier. Meanwhile in the centre of old Leicester, people were out in the sun. There was a big screen in Jubilee Square, showing the university ceremony (on left). The spire on the right is the cathedral. statue flowersexpect delaysStreets were closed ahead of the parade arriving back in Leicester. This is where the statue had been moved from – it used to stand just behind the railings. no loading no parking You can’t park there. Grey Friars waitingBow Bridge People gathered around Bow Bridge, where the coffin would formally re-enter the city.road closed Augustines 1Holiday Innfirst aidbetter than Maccies“Better than Maccies!”Augustines 2 Tudor Rd Jewry Wall A reminder that Leicester’s story is not just about Richard III. You can see part of the Roman Jewry Wall in the background of this shot, where the important museum has to cope with council budgeting. Leicester Leicester Leicester

Pall north

Pall north

Pall south

Pall south

Inside the cathedral before the service, I photographed the coffin pall, a wonderful thing made by Jacquie Binns that captures the saga’s strange mix of religion, myth, science, drama and story-telling. John Ashdown-Hill’s crown sits on top. He’s on the pall, holding his book (the cheekiest plug ever?), second from right on the south-facing side, between Philippa Langley and Phil Stone. The pall is now exhibited in the cathedral. The service was a lovely, calming moment in the newly laid out cathedral – feeling so much larger inside – warmly lit as darkness fell outside; I used to enjoy Compline at school, which we sang in plainsong. Coming out, however, I thought the RIII crown logo projected onto the spire was tacky. Yet a surprisingly rare moment, at the start of a week that was all sorts of things, but not commercialised or exploitative. As Fellowes said, Leicester did it very well. cathedral RIII

9 responses

  1. Great Post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Good luck with the book.

    April 11, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    • mikepitts

      Thanks! I’m really enjoying updating little details, and so grateful that Thames & Hudson have allowed me a new long chapter.

      April 11, 2015 at 2:21 pm

  2. I must admit to posting a comment on here previously which was somewhat critical of some aspects of the proposed route. As it happened, I thought that the TV footage of the procession through the city centre showed how, in essence, Leicester has medieval streets, albeit somewhat in disguise.

    I was at the university in the morning and back near West Bridge in the afternoon. The athmosphere was amazing. I did not throw white roses or cheer. But besides wanting to see a piece of history in the making, I felt that I was celebrating both the discovery of Richard’s remains and the fact that they were rightfully staying in Leicester. For me personally this was also significant because my family history research has shown that my ancestors quite probably lived very close to the battle as it happened, and certainly later farmed land over which it was fought and where Norfolk was killed (if Foard’s interpretation is correct).

    Not the least exciting thing about an amazing week was the chance to visit the Norman great hall of the castle and the very interesting new heritage centre at De Montfort University, incorporating the site and remains of the Church of the Annunciation, where Richard’s body was most likely displayed and which, like the castle, has very strong and important Lancastrian connections. How many people realise that Henry IV’s grandfather, Henry V’s mother and John of Gaunt’s second wife (Constance of Castile) are buried here, or that Gaunt himself died in Leicester? Or that Henry VI was knighted in St Mary de Castro and immediately proceeded to knight Richard, Duke of York (Richard III’s father)?

    As you say, Leicester has history before Richard. I hope that the council will build it into a coherent story and do more than open some of the sites a few days a year.

    April 11, 2015 at 2:10 pm

  3. mikepitts

    Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves! It was not a wake. One imagines that the city is now even more aware of the significance of its heritage. The previous British Archaeology (new one just out, my next blog) had a feature rounding up the Richard III story and describing some of the historic things you can see in Leicester.

    April 11, 2015 at 2:24 pm

  4. ND Wiseman

    I’ve been waiting some weeks for your KR-III brief, Mike. You never disappoint. Thanks so much.
    Neil

    April 11, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    • mikepitts

      Thank you! It’s good to be (nearly) our of the flu, though it’s going to take some time to catch on everything

      April 12, 2015 at 12:48 pm

  5. Diana Whitty

    Excellent post, and with so many ‘new’ photos. Personally, I rather liked the RIII illuminating the tower, but that just goes to show how subjective perception can be. The entire dig and what happened after constitute a great job. Well done and thank you to everyone concerned.

    April 12, 2015 at 9:32 am

    • mikepitts

      perhaps i’ve just seen too much PR with the logo on it…

      April 12, 2015 at 12:47 pm

  6. Andrew

    To the left of Jo Appleby and Turi King is Prof Sarah Hainsworth (holding a rose) – she did a lot of the forensic work on the injuries to the skeleton.

    April 14, 2015 at 9:31 am

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