Should Richard III get a state funeral? And if so, where?
It is time to re-evaluate Shakespeare's greatest villain, the last true 'English' king
IF THE ancient bones discovered by archaelogists underneath a car park in Leicester do turn out to be those of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle in 1485, then the question of what to do with them must be addressed.
Already there have been calls for a state funeral for the man who was depicted by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked villain and who is widely held to have murdered the Princes in the Tower.
The campaign is being led by the Daily Mail which insists that "a more dignified resting-place than a council car park is suitable for a man who was the last truly English king".
The paper accepts that there may be opposition. "The most gifted PR man would find rehabilitating Richard a bit of a struggle, even after all these years," writes Simon Heffer. But he points out that when the remains of Tsar Nicholas II were discovered in Russia in the 1990s he was given a state funeral. "I believe we should do something similar for Richard III, if these bones are his."
And what about that claim that he was the last "English" king? "The Tudors were Welsh. They were followed by Scots and Germans," argues Heffer.
"Given the case against Richard III is far from proven, but there is much that we know of the good he did in a turbulent age, he deserves, with due ceremony, a decent burial.”
Daily Telegraph blogger Ed West agrees that it is time to reassess Richard. "It's certainly true that most people at the time thought Richard a good lawmaker and a pious man (much needed after his brother’s debauchery), and he was especially popular in the north," he writes.
Richard's original grave, says West, was destroyed when churches were ransacked during the Reformation, a mere 50 years after his death. The same fate befell the grave of Harold, the English king killed by an arrow to the eye at the Battle of Hastings.
"It would be fitting if Richard III and Harold II were given proper burials in the capital. With a Catholic ceremony, obviously," he says.
Why London? asks Sunder Katwala, director of the thinktank British Future. Writing in The Spectator he agrees that Richard of York should be given the respect due to a king, but says we should take note of his background.
"By all means, let there be a state funeral for Richard, but it should be a state funeral in the north," he wrote. "The last Plantagenet King should lie in state and be buried in York minster. What better way could there be to relearn the history of England, and to realise too that it has not always been a London-centred story?"