Richard III’s burial could be as poignant and beautiful as the royal wedding

From Telegraph blogs, February 4, 2013

I don’t suppose that when Richard III went into battle on August 22 1485 he imagined that in death he would become the most notorious villain in English history, nor that his grave would a century later be violated by followers of a radical heresy that had overtaken history. He certainly wouldn’t have imagined that five and a half centuries later his body, having lay under a resting spot for horseless carts, would be dug up and his body identified through his sister’s last descendent of the female line, from a country thousands of miles to the West.

But now that we can be pretty sure that these are the remains of Richard III, what does it mean? Even if Richard is found not to have been a hunchback, that doesn’t change anything. Richard’s major crime, which elevates him above the usual horror of his age, was to murder his nephews, and, unless something amazing turns up (such as the deathbed confessions of Henry VII) it still seems likely Richard was the culprit.

As with most history, Richard’s skeleton tells us more about the present than the past: about our interest in archaeology, which occasionally does lead to these sort of romantic adventurers although usually concerns more prosaic but important studies, and in history. I’ve lately come around to Game of Thrones, and after getting over the initial embarrassment and prejudices about fantasy, I can see the attraction, mainly because I’ve always loved medieval English history. George RR Martin takes much of his material from the War of the Roses, and earlier English history (England was also once the “seven kingdoms”, the heptarchy): the family disputes, the North-South divide, the names (“Edward” was once pronounced “Eddard”), and the dispute that followed the death of a king.

In Game of Thrones King Robert’s premature, boozy demise leads to a power grab by his widow and her family, the Lannisters; the throne passes to her son, a bastard, rather than the king’s rightful heir, his younger brother. In real life the premature, boozy death of Edward IV made his wife’s family, the Woodvilles, major powerbrokers in the kingdom, something many people resented. Their power depended on Edward IV’s son, which is why Richard, Duke of Gloucester, effectively kidnapped them, and made himself protector, something not outrageous to many of the people.

The popularity of Game of Thrones will surely make Philippa Langley’s planned film about the king a goer. As for the king himself, I’ve written before that Richard should be buried in London or York, but wherever he is laid to rest the authorities would be foolish to miss this opportunity. Things like the change in the Life in the UK test always lead to conversations about what national identity is, but these debates mean less to most people than events like the royal wedding.

Identity is hard to articulate and attempts to do so always lead people to effective confuse their own beliefs with the values of the country; far more important are historic events, which tell the story of us as a people, because nationhood ultimately is a story. The War of the Roses, as it was called from the 19th century, was an especially brutal period in English history but an inevitable part of a country’s journey to political maturity (and one many less fortunate countries are still having). Rather than anguished conversations about what Britishness or Englishness means, a day to bury our former king would be a great moment of togetherness. I hope that the Queen, another descendent of one of Richard’s siblings, can make it.

What do you think?