It was a glorious day for a funeral as the remains of our last Plantagenet king were taken back to Bosworth Field, the scene of his final fateful battle.
There were so many of us at the Leicestershire ceremony, it seemed all of middle England had come out to give a proper farewell to this monarch, who was born in Fotheringhay and died in 1485 aged 32.
And it was a real Bosworth Field day for the re-enactors. A procession of them dressed as armoured knights, black-cowled monks with blazing torches, richly attired courtiers and medieval matrons preceded the King’s plain oak coffin.
The last occasion this one time Duke of Gloucester who had made himself king passed this way, his naked body was strapped to the back of a horse.
He was caked in blood from his many wounds including a poll-axe blow to his head, delivered by a Welsh billman who had wrenched off his helmet.
The ceremony on March 22 was conducted by Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester.
“Richard was carried from this place to Leicester a defeated man,” he told his open-air congregation.
“Today, 530 years later we have the opportunity to allow King Richard to undertake that journey again; this time however with the dignity and honour that befits a king of England.”
Then Phil Stone, stout and white-bearded, chairman of the Richard lll Society, stepped up to remind us that Richard was a warrior who had won every major engagement except Bosworth.
“His legal reforms and laws to help the poor were already marking him out as a good king when he died due to bad luck and misplaced trust in treacherous allies,” he said.
“Let us remember him as a good king and a warrior king.”
The 21-gun salute that followed was performed with creditable speed by seven replica cannon from the period, one of them owned by a lady re-enactor from Basingstoke whose father had handed it down to her.
And this mysterious monarch does seem to hold a fascination for the ladies.
Among a couple of hundred re-enactors camped at the site was Christine Power, a 67-year-old retired telephonist from Liverpool
She was dressed in a Burgundian gown, the 15th Century equivalent of Paris fashion and she confessed she had been a Richard fan since she was 12 and had torn his picture out of a library book to pin on her bedroom wall.
We were brought back into the present when the sober-suited current Duke of Gloucester stepped forward to light a remembrance beacon at Bosworth which was due to burn until the king was re-interred at Leicester Cathedral on March 26.
My own final thought on this extraordinary occasion was that I had expected the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up when Richard’s coffin appeared.
They did when I visited the actual site of his death at nearby Fenn Lane Farm last year and I espied a row of thorn bushes. They were in my imagination descendants of the one where Lord Stanley found Richard’s crown in 1485.
That they didn’t this time was possibly because the coffin was so utterly plain and bizarrely pulled up Ambion Hill by 30 local army cadets in modern uniform.
Far better to have dressed them in medieval garb.
But it was a highly impressive and emotional day nonetheless, organised by Leicester’s council, university and cathedral plus Bosworth Battlefield Museum.
If Richard’s reputation stood at zero for hundreds of years, it now appears to be approaching hero, with even the Bishop of Leicester and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster going into bat for him during their sermons. And methinks that Leicestershire is now securely based in the English premier league of tourist attractions.
And by the way . . .
THE discovery of Richard lll’s body under a Leicester car park came as no great surprise to some Northampton history buffs.
Medieval expert David Baldwin has been telling adult history groups in the town for 22 years that this is where he would be found.
He wrote in an historical journal in 1986: “It is possible . . . that sometime in the 21st Century an excavator may yet reveal the slight remains of this famous monarch . . . most probably . . . beneath the northern (St Martin’s) end of Grey Friars Street.”
This helped prompt the Richard lll Society to press for the dig and on March 21 he told a packed lecture theatre at Leicester University why his researches made him so sure.
“It was claimed Richard’s bones had been thrown into the River Soar when the monasteries were dissolved. But this account had been written 70 years later and I wasn’t inclined to believe it,” he said.
“The mayor of Leicester later built a house on the site and erected a stone pillar to mark Richard’s grave. This disappeared – probably during the Civil War – but its existence had been well documented and indicates the mayor was sure he had Richard’s remains.”
David, 66, from Leicester and an author of several acclaimed books on the Plantagenets,was giving interviews to media from all over the world last week.
“Richard lll is now more popular than he’s ever been,” he said. “No other king has caught the same imagination.
“Shakespeare made him into an arch-villain but to find more about his character we’ll have to keep digging. Only this time it will be in the archives.”
Tony Boullemier is the author of
The Little Book of Monarchs