Long Live the King! – UPDATED

[Editor’s note: Richard III’s reburial takes place on Thursday, March 26. Please keep reading below the original piece for new information.]

Originally published February 18, 2013:

“Sin, death, and hell have set their marks on him,
And all their ministers attend on him.”  – William Shakespeare, Richard III

Poor King Richard III.  So far as we know, the only marks on him were the yellow lines that mark parking spots.  The only minister? A parking lot attendant.

Dying ingloriously on the losing end of a battle with Henry Tudor, the last Plantagenet king of England was buried unceremoniously in the Franciscan “Greyfriars” monastery. The monastery itself had its own ‘winter of discontent’ during the next Tudor king’s Reformation efforts: it was razed, eventually buried, and finally paved over as a public parking lot in 20th century Leicester.

Yet don’t ‘despair and die!’ A team of dedicated archaeologists not only discovered the location of old Greyfriars, they found the remains of someone who died of battle wounds and suffered from scoliosis – not unlike Shakespeare’s hunchbacked protagonist.  Geneticists last week verified beyond a reasonable doubt that the remains were indeed Richard’s.

But now there’s a dilemma: what to do with him? One can’t just hold his remains indefinitely; he was an English king after all, ignominious legacy or not.  The researchers made arrangements to have him interred in Leicester Cathedral, with rites befitting an English king (and cry ‘content’ to that which grieves their heart), but that hasn’t quite settled the issue.

You see, a lot has happened since Richard III died, not least of which the aforementioned Reformation.  And a lot of people are pushing to give Richard III the Catholic rites he would have been familiar with.

I’d like to suggest a compromise: why not bury him alongside other English kings in a pre-Reformation cathedral? Probably best to avoid Westminster Abbey, where his Bosworth bête noir is buried – awkward! But why not Leicester or York (“whose sun made glorious summer”)? And, of course, to allow the Catholic rites that marked his life and death.

But wait! That raises another issue: does he get the post-Vatican II revised liturgical rites, or the pre-Reformation liturgical rites of England?

And the question nobody’s asking is suggested by Shakespeare’s play itself: what vestments should be worn worn?

“And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With odd, old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”

UPDATE:

Richard III will be formally reburied in a new tomb in Leicester Cathedral on Thursday, March 26, 2015 following a week of ceremonies which took his lead lined casket from the University of Leicester to Bosworth Field, then on to Leicester Cathedral.

And we finally have an answer to the question of whether the rites will be Catholic or Anglican, and the answer is…both! Take a look at the reburial timetable for all the details, but check out these ecumenical snippets:

  • March 22: An invited congregation will pray a service of Compline where Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, will preach the sermon.
  • March 23: Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Mass for the repose of the soul (a ‘Requiem Mass’) of Richard III in Holy Cross Church, the Catholic parish church and Dominican priory in Leicester city centre.
  • March 24: Dominican friars will sing Vespers, the Catholic Church’s evening service, in Leicester Cathedral.
  • March 25: Father David Rocks OP, the parish priest of Holy Cross Parish, will preach at the lunchtime Eucharist in Leicester Cathedral, which will be celebrated by Sister Beverley, a Franciscan  Anglican priest.
  • March 26: The mortal remains of Richard III will be re-interred in Leicester Cathedral…in the presence of the Most Rt Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and senior clergy from both dioceses, and other Christian denominations alongside representatives of the World Faiths.

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