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I don’t mind where they bury Richard III; but having been denied Christian burial by Henry Tudor, he must now be given a Catholic funeral Mass

To bury England’s last Plantagenet King, a man of considerable piety, as though he had been a Protestant would be an utterly offensive act

By on Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley stands beside a facial reconstruction of the king (Photo: PA)

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley stands beside a facial reconstruction of the king (Photo: PA)

I am finding that, though yesterday’s disastrous vote on gay “marriage” is obviously of more contemporary relevance, I am today more fascinated and stirred by another story entirely: the fact that scientists at the University of Leicester (as it happens an alma mater of mine) have stated that beyond any reasonable doubt the skeleton recently found there is indeed that of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. Based on the skull, a facial reconstruction has now been made; it’s very like the famous portrait, but better looking. Our idea of him is, of course, now probably beyond recall, formed by Shakespeare’s evil monster, the supposed murderer of the princes in the tower. But Shakespeare’s version was based on Tudor propaganda, that is, on Holinshed, whose account is in turn based on the narrative cooked up by one John Morton, who was, wait for it, Henry Tudor’s Archbishop of Canterbury, an open enemy of Richard III who conspired against him and spent some time in captivity in Brecknock Castle: he was released and promoted by Henry VII. Richard almost certainly did not murder the princes (there was no contemporary accusation that he did, even from Henry Tudor himself). The best reconstruction of what happened is in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, which is also one of the best discussions of how history can be fabricated for propaganda purposes: she discusses also, as a modern example, the scurrilous lie, still widely believed, that Winston Churchill ordered troops to fire on miners in Tonypandy, killing many (he actually refused to send in troops, restoring order by means of unarmed Metropolitan policemen, who killed nobody).

Early in Richard’s reign, Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s, accompanied Richard on a royal progress through his kingdom, and wrote to a friend that “He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress. And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money been given him which he has refused. On my truth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God has sent him to us for the weal of us all”. There were more critical accounts of course; there always are. But Richard was not the monster we have supposed.

Whatever he was, he was England’s anointed king: and he was of course a Catholic. He was, in fact, austerely religious, a public benefactor and protector of the Church, a founder of charities, who throughout his life upheld a strict code of sexual morality, in marked contrast to many of his fellow courtiers. Had he not been toppled by the wretched Henry Tudor, there would have been no Henry VIII and no consequent apostasy of the Ecclesia Anglicana: we might still be a Catholic country, with a Catholic monarchy. His burial took place without any funeral rites at all: he was just shoved in a hole by the impious Henry. All this makes it surely unthinkable that he should be given a Protestant funeral service and buried in a Protestant cathedral. But that is what is now proposed: Leicester Cathedral is a post-reformation Cathedral. Richard himself wanted to be buried in York Minster, and that would be fine, as long as the funeral is a Catholic Requiem Mass. The historian Andrew Roberts thinks not only that “the bones of the last British [sic] monarch to die in battle now must be treated with dignity and venerated properly, as is only right for a former head of state”, but that like monarchs before and after him, Richard III deserves a burial ceremony in accordance with his former status. That means, he says, Westminster Abbey, where 17 English kings and queens are buried. He points out that Richard was anointed and crowned King at a grand, solemn and very well-attended ceremony at Westminster Abbey on July 6 1483, and thinks that he should be buried there with all the proper honours this summer, 530 years later.

I agree with all that. But the funeral service itself must surely be one he would not himself indignantly have repudiated. It must be a Catholic Mass, preferably conducted according to the Sarum Rite: the same rite, that is, accorded to most of the other Kings buried there.

That is the essential. As long as it’s not in Leicester Cathedral (close by the site of his final humiliation), I don’t mind where it happens. But for the last Plantagenet King of England to be buried as though he had been a Protestant would be an utterly offensive travesty of our history, and something English Catholics should simply not accept without vigorous protest: it is surely now time for our bishops, and especially the Archbishop of Westminster, to speak. Will they?

  • Parasum

     An Anglican might point out that the C of E regards itself as being the reformed continuation of the Church of which he was a member. Catholics see a break in continuity  – Anglicans do not. Neither group denies that the Reformation in England was significant, but Anglican theology emphasis things about it that Catholic theology does not (& conversely).

    STM Henry Tudor should get the criticism – not the C of E. It was he who committed a (successful) act of treason, & landed England with his descendants.

  • Parasum

     STM it’s largely a matter of emphasis, and vantage point. Or maybe a Rorshach blot or duck-rabbit would be a good analogy; or some other.

    FWIW, the CC of 2012 is markedly unlike that of 1485.  

  • Parasum

     Why ?

  • Parasum

    It means the Church in England, as distinct from that in Poland or the Papal states or (say) Scotland. All four of which were parts of a single supra-national Church governed by the Pope. It is not an assertion that the Church in England was separate from Catholic Christendom.  If it had been a purely national Church, the attempt (in 1192 or so – IOW, very recently) of the Archbishop of York to claim jurisdiction over the Scottish Church would have been laughable. The attempt makes sense only if neither Church was purely national, and was instead part of a supra-national Church.

    Union with Rome =/=  Ultramontanism. 

  • Parasum

    “Given that the Church of England was founded by the son of the man whose followers killed King Richard”

    ## That it was “founded” by Henry VIII is debatable – not a fact. That Catholics see events in that light, does not mean that that interpretation of events is correct (or alone in being correct).

    “…it would be wrong to bury him by what he would see as the rites of a church that was heretical.”

    ## But that is an opinion about what he might have thought in a certain – hypothetical & wholly unreal – situation: it’s not what in fact he did think. As a guide to his opinions about the C of E, we have nothing but speculation to go on. If he had  done anything that gave an indication of his theological tendencies, it might be possible to guess with some accuracy whether he would have been an Anglican or not – did he do anything to indicate whether he would have been Anglican or Catholic (had he known of both communions) ?

  • Parasum

    “King Richard III was born Roman Catholic”

    ## 1. No one is born any kind of Christian – they are born “children of wrath”, which is why they need to be baptised.

    2. There was only Catholicism during his lifetime – not “Roman” Catholicism. 

    3. “The Greyfriars monastery where he was buried was destroyed by Henry VIII, for heaven’s sake!”

    ## Edward I destroyed monasteries; as did Sir William Wallace. What of it ? Catholics have destroyed lots of monasteries – doing so is no evidence of not being Catholic.

  • Parasum

    ## I don’t think Catholics are meant to be utter jerks. It would be utterly jerkish to abuse the rites of the Church by setting out to use them to embarrass others.

  • W Oddie

    All that has been dealt with by Josephine Tey: try reading Daughter of Time (you obviously haven’t), it’s virtually irrefutable.

  • W Oddie

    Reinterment, please. InterNment is something else entirely

  • Moiramrandall

    It is correct that Richard’s planned funeral be a Requiem Mass and in a pre-reformation church.  If Leicester Cathedral was built post-reformation then the most appropriate venue would be York Minster in the capital city of the county most beloved by Richard and where he was most loved.  Moira Randall.

  • Moiramrandall

    Most amusing ! many a true word spoken in jest. 

  • Thomas Bourchier

     Dear Dr Oddie,
    Josephine Tey was a remarkable crime novel writer, but she died more than sixty years ago. During the interval since then, many scholars have worked on fifteenth century English history and been through the sources, but not one, so far as I know, holds her views. Indeed I am unaware of a reputable scholar as opposed to a popular writer who does so. And the “Daughter of Time” is not scholarship but a detective story.

  • Ttalbany

    Actually Henry VII did give Richard III a ‘proper’ burial.  It was his son – Henry VIII  - who desecrated his tomb, but only as a general desacralisation of Catholic sites and the friary at Leicester

  • kinkysox

    LOL!!!! You amuse me, Parasum!

    Henry II had a strop with Saint Thomas a Becket, his soldiers brutally murdered him in Canterbury Cathedral and Henry II did severe penance for it for the rest of his life. That’s the only case of desecration of a holy place by a (Roman) Catholic I’ve heard of.

    Other than that, I’ve never heard of (Roman) Catholics destroying monasteries – which ones did they destroy? Can you name them? And why?

    Enlighten us, why don’t you?

    Henry VIII destroyed, desecrated monasteries and robbed them, you tomfool – including the Greyfriars where Richard II was unceremoniously buried - because HVIII got greedy, paranoid, arrogant and had a strop with the Pope.

    He and his Tudor descendants were the tyrants, not King Richard III.

    King Richard III passed into law ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (which, ironically and largely thanks to those Terrible Tudors, wasn’t accorded to King Richard III over crimes he was supposed to have committed), the bail system and affordable access to legal advice. He also gave generously to religious orders, the training of priests and the people loved him. So there, sunshine!

    Don’t think for one minute, folks, that I regard KRIII as some kind of paragon of perfection or a saint. I don’t. Whatever faults he had pales into insignificance compared with those who warmed their posteriors on his throne since his cruel, brutal demise!

    I made the distinction of Roman Catholic in the case of King Richard III because he was in full communion with the Pope in Rome.

    There are those who are not in full communion in Rome who call themselves ‘Catholic’ e.g. Anglo-Catholic, Old Catholic etc. etc.

    Do you get me now?

    Also, I hear that the next quest for the Holy Grail of Royal Remains will be Alfred the Great. I have read somewhere, since, that Oliver Cromwell (who hated everyone, including Roman Catholics) dug up his remains and threw them away – heaven knows where.

    To those noble and dedicated bone-kickers, I salute them and wish them well in their endeavours.

    Don’t be surprised if Alfred is found under the local Co-Op!

  • Clive Freemantle

    This was a Catholic monarch whose coronation was validated by the Pope himself. As a Catholic He was part of the universal Christian church without man made boundaries (incidentally England and Scotland as separate kingdoms were abolished by the Act Of Union 1703. Richard III was not the direct ancestor any any American King, but He was of the line of succession of the English then British Kings of the American dominions) He died a son of the Church and in his time would have condemned, by death, heretics under His own laws- to bury him in a Protestant Church (indeed even the crew of the ‘Mary Rose’ were given a Catholic funeral) should outrage any Christian and Briton. It would have disgusted Him.

  • majorcalamity

    Why don’t we just wait and see? I feel pretty sure that due care and attention will be given to this, to ensure proper respect is given. I also sure that someone, for some reason, will be unhappy about it. Let’s not make it political though! 

  • Wolf

    As a former greyfriar I am so pleased that he was found in the grounds of the friary.  Although records do not exist it is inconcievable that the friars didnt give him the rites of burial.  He was a good friend to the friars in his life time and they would have repaid this.  Much of their activity was done quietly and one wouldnt seek for records as they were not stupid; good historians would understand this. They would have brought trouble to their door.

    A State funeral is irrelevant as this State isnt the one he lived in  rather like the Czar of Russia being buried by Communists.  But would be ironic.  A CE burial is just a mark of respect. He has passed into righteous judgement and hopefully into the Kingdom of God. May God have mercy on his soul.

  • W Oddie

    On the contrary, her views are widely shared by historians today: Shakespeare’s Richard III is now generally believed to be based on Tudor propaganda. The truth is more complex: but nobody now seriously asserts that he killed the two “Princes in the Tower” at the time, even Henry Tudor made no such accusation. That was all thought up later. 

  • Leslie

    POI:  For many years, when Americans said “English” or “England” they were given snippy comments about how no, it was “British” and “Britain” or the “UK,” you ignorant dolt; so now out of habit we say “British” and “Britain.”  So I suppose it’s a refreshing change to have someone being snippy in the other direction.

    Gee, Richard didn’t rule over Wales and Ireland, as well as England?  Wow, Owen Glendower must’ve been a lot more successful than I thought he was. 

    Delaware Mom was quite right in hoping that British – not just English – Catholics demand a Catholic burial for Richard III.  After all, the government that will be making the decision is British, not just English, and presumably interested in hearing the opinions of all Britons, not only of the English.

  • Leslie

    Richard III was Catholic.  True, it’s vaguely possible that he might have decided to be Anglican, had such a thing existed.  Or that he might have decided to be a Quaker, or a Rastafarian, or Methodist, or a New Age adherent.  But what he actually was, as opposed to hypothetically might have decided to be in a different time, was Catholic.  And therefore a his reinterment should be by Catholic rites. Preferably Sarum, which he would have known.

  • Paulcasini

    Sorry your wrong The Anglican Church is the ancient church of our islands in or out of union with Rome as such a High Anglican Mass is the correct choice

  • Paulcasini

    Exactly correct

  • Paulcasini

    Rubbish it stands up to historical analysis exactly

  • Leslie

    Hmmm – maybe they could get special permission, under the circumstances?

  • Katie8

    A wonderful article, thank you, and I agree totally with all you say.

  • http://twitter.com/JonathanSimpso6 Jonathan Simpson

     Disrespectful Richard III should be buried in york by a catholic priest as he planned!

    http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Richard-III-Displaying-Richard-s-remains-ruled/story-18134668-detail/story.html#axzz2KnPOGJGU

  • Simon

    I agree with most of what you say . But why the Archbishop of Birmingham ? There are also Franciscans in Nottingham ( at Our Lady and St. Edward’s Church ). He should be buried at the nearest Catholic Church , ( Holy Cross Dominican Church in Leicester City Centre) at a Requiem Mass celebrated by the local R.C. Diocese Bishop ( the Bishop of  Nottingham ).or the Archbishop of Westminster.
      I am quite perturbed that on local East Midland’s TV News the service at Leicester Cathedral is being reported as a forgone conclusion .
       I am a Catholic and in favour of Ecumenism and respect my Anglican Brothers and Sisters , but feel strongly about this. Can you imagine if a prominent person who was Muslim , Jewish or Hindu was being buried in the Cathedral ? There would quite rightly be uproar . ! 

  • Wbourdignon

    Of all the protestant sects, the Anglican Church is certainly the most similiar to modern day Roman Catholicism.  Benedict himself reached out to disaffected Anglicans making it easier for them to revert back to the Roman Catholic faith back in 2009 after an historic meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome.  When we are comparing the the C of E with RC we are comparing shades of gray in my opinion. 

  • American Catholic

    Wasn’t it Britain (Britannia as the Romans called it), full of Britons, before it was England full of Angles ?  Just wondering — how accurate is Churchill’s history of the English speaking peoples ?  sign me American Catholic (you’ll just have to guess which rebellious former colony of Great Britain I reside in)

  • Ldalby446

    Wow…you would think any kind of burial out of respect would be ok…I doubt fighting over it and judging will make it any better or more peaceful than the first burial..just saying !!!!

  • Doug

    Former Anglican now Catholic here.  Very much respect the Anglican faith.  If Queen Elizabeth were dug up years from now and her body to be reburied would she wish an Anglican ceremony or would she be content with whatever faith might be vogue at the time in England, if any!