England’s slain king Richard III, exhumed from an undignified grave beneath a car park, will finally be buried with honour on Thursday in an unprecedented ceremony filled with pageantry and poignancy.
Some 530 years on from his brutal demise, the last English monarch killed in battle will be laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, across the street from where his remains were located in 2012 in a feat of archaeology.
The story of the king in the car park has captivated Britain in the build-up to Thursday’s spectacle and caused people to reconsider the tale of a man long caricatured as a villainous tyrant.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual head of the Church of England, will preside over the reinternment, while Queen Elizabeth has sent a personal message that will appear inside the order of service.
Her daughter-in-law Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, will attend on the sovereign’s behalf, as will the queen’s cousin Prince Richard the Duke of Gloucester, patron of the Richard III Society and a blood relative of the slain king.
Packed in with wool and linen, Richard’s battle-scarred bones are sealed inside a lead ossuary contained within an oak coffin made by Canadian carpenter Michael Ibsen, one of his closest living relatives.
“The ceremony can’t be downcast and sad because he died 530 years ago,” said Ibsen, Richard’s nephew 16 times removed.
“But it’s going to be an interesting mixture of quiet solemnity with a sense of contentment that he is, at last, being given the burial that he ought to have been given in the first place, regardless of his reputation.”
– Cousin Cumberbatch reads poem –
With the coffin lowered into the grave, actor Benedict Cumberbatch will read a specially-commissioned work by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.
The Oscar-nominated star, who is due to play Richard in the BBC television series “The Hollow Crown”, is also the king’s third cousin 16 times removed.
Officially entitled “Service of Reinterment of the Remains of King Richard III by the grace of God King of England and France and Lord of Ireland,” the religious ceremony will be a moving event for many in the cathedral.
“It is a quite an extraordinary story and people have taken Richard to their hearts,” said Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, after a week in which tens of thousands queued for hours to file past the coffin.
“It could only happen in this way in England,” he told AFP.
“It will be formal, full of pageantry and visually very colourful.
“It will be solemn and respectful and we hope it will honour the memory of a king who has not had a place of honour for five centuries.
“He deserves a grave on which his name is carved forever, and from now on he will have that.”
– Niece’s ‘shivers down spine’ –
Identified by his DNA, radiocarbon dating and his distinctive curved spine, the discovery of Richard’s skeleton has triggered a revival of interest in his reign.
The last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard ruled from 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in central England in 1485.
It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses and changed the course of English history. Richard’s defeat saw the crown pass from the Plantagenets to the Tudors with his victorious opponent ending the blood-soaked day as king Henry VII.
Richard was hastily buried with minimal ceremony in Greyfriars monastery, which was dissolved by king Henry VIII in 1538.
Richard’s closest living relatives, all direct female line descendants of his eldest sister Anne of York, will be at the service.
“I feel shivers going down my spine,” said one of them, Australian-born researcher Wendy Duldig, a niece 18 times removed.
“It will be a very private, personal time for me. I want it to be that way. It’s a member of my family. I think it’s going to take on poignancy. This is an event for thousands of other people but I will be in my own space,” she told AFP.
Michael Ibsen’s sister Leslie added: “It will be quite emotional. You’re attending the funeral of a relative but it’s a happy time because he was found and identified. It’s family pride.”
Photo Credits : AFP